Tell me—who starts at shortstop for the New York Mets on Opening Day?
Okay, so maybe the answer is still up in the air. But Ruben Tejada certainly maintains the inside track, doesn't he? Then again, there was arguably no position on the team weaker in 2013.
Oh, and first base? In-house options are somewhat uninspiring, I'll admit.
There are alternatives available outside the organization and it was an issue all year—it has to be a top priority. What will it cost to bring in a clear upgrade? Is the expected production superior enough to cover the incontrovertible payroll-hike it will require? Cheap and under team control is always an appealing combination.
Are the Mets comfortable with what they already have? Surely we can anticipate that much with confidence.
Like most of baseball, the Mets offseason has officially arrived. We know their assets. We know their holes. We know the outfield needs a facelift and that the pitching staff has real promise. But can we predict the New York Mets starting lineup next year?
The architect will be general manager Sandy Alderson. He's tasked with amending roster-deficiencies this winter and he has about $40 million to do so. The positions of third base, centerfield and catcher are already accounted for in the lineup. Why, then, does the final product still feel so elusive?
Well, the franchise has a barrage of question marks scattered all over the diamond and very few answers, quite frankly. Alderson is trusted to build a contender this offseason—or at the very least, render them a few big steps closer. Quite a precarious situation for a general manager to be in, don't you think?
It'll certainly require plenty of creativity.
No player on the major league roster truly warrants an "untouchable" tag, with the exception of their captain and injured ace. Whether flaws are best corrected via trade, free agency or internally is for the front office to determine. In many ways, the decision comes down to choosing the lesser of two evils—financial resources are finite.
"What's the most we're willing to spend to acquire him?" and "Just how uncomfortable are we with our current, less costly alternative?" The answer probably lies somewhere in between.
Each franchise is at the behest of the offseason market. Alderson's approach will evolve with every MLB move made, and each impending Mets move will correspond with their previous. Trouble is, the market has yet to reveal its hand much at all as of yet.
Predicting the Mets starting lineup next year is like trying to forecast the New York Giants' first victory.
Of course I'd love to stop watching that 0-6 team. Quell some unnecessary suffering, you know? Turns out a historically bad defense, running game and offensive line aren't enough to convince me to alter my Sundays. Forgive the tangent, but my baseball loyalties just seem all-too-fitting.
As for the guesswork involved in lineup prediction? No chance a full understanding of Alderson's unenviable position stops me from trying.
I'd love to hear your personal thoughts and ideas in the comments section below as always.
Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud
D'Arnaud, 24, didn't exactly light it up when he made his highly anticipated debut on August 17. The former first-round supplemental pick stumbled out to a disappointing .548 OPS in 31 games this year.
But enough with the negatives. D'Arnaud is the least of the Mets concerns.
The Mets would be foolish to give up on him based on a sample size of 112 plate appearances—not without ample opportunity to realize the potential that made him No. 6 in the 2013 MLB.com list of Top 100 Prospects. He was the centerpiece of two separate blockbuster trades—opposite a couple of Cy Young award winners—for a reason.
He began showing signs of breaking out of his rookie slump towards the end of the season, though that should be taken it for what it's worth. His OPS was .808 in his final nine games.
There's no cause for concern here. Not yet at least.
First Base: Lucas Duda
Can the Mets fix all of their issues at first base, shortstop and the outfield in one offseason? It would probably require a prudent trade or two, but it's not unfathomable.
With that said, I think first base ends up with the small straw on the list of priorities. It's their best opportunity to use internal options—between Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Josh Satin—in order to attain league average production at any of the aforementioned three weakest positions.
The starting nod should come down to Davis and Duda, and it's really a tossup at this point. Satin will provide a serviceable platoon partner to whoever should win out. The Oakland Athletics have proven the legitimacy of a well-incorporated platoon advantage.
I chose Duda for his relatively superior consistency, despite Davis' presumably higher ceiling and more accomplished, now-distant track record. Duda bested Davis in AVG, OBP and SLG in 2013. For all of the talk of Duda's disappointing lack of power—he out-homered Davis (15 to 9) in three fewer games this year.
Second Base: Daniel Murphy
Murphy is an above average offensive player at his position, even if his value is limited by an inability to draw walks.
He's also one of very few attractive assets the Mets own for potential trades. If Murphy can help net the Mets any proven MLB talent, he's expendable. His departure would also spell an opening for Wilmer Flores to slide into. By no means, however, does his position require the immediate attention of the franchise.
Among qualified MLB second basemen, Murphy ranked sixth in runs created (87) and 11th in OPS+ (108). He came in at second and sixth, respectively, in the National League.
Third Base: David Wright
Finally—a gimme. What is there to say about consummate professional David Wright?
Wright was a 5.9 WAR player over the course of an injury riddled 2013—the sixth highest total in the entire National League. Among major league third basemen, in OPS+ (156) and runs created (89), he ranked third and seventh respectively.
Outside of the inhuman numbers Miguel Cabrera puts up at the position on a yearly basis, the Mets have it as good as it gets.
Shortstop: Stephen Drew
Shortstop is in dire need of an upgrade and I'm assuming it's a hole the Mets will choose to address sooner rather than later. Alderson hasn't shied away from voicing his displeasure with the internal candidates.
Omar Quintanilla lacks an everyday quality bat, Wilfredo Tovar could use more seasoning and Ruben Tejada has fallen out of favor with management—while struggling, simultaneously, to produce. It's a hole that I believe will get filled from outside of the organization.
Stephen Drew would represent a clear upgrade at the position. He was a 3.1 WAR player in 2013 and is expected to hit free agency without receiving a qualifying offer from the Red Sox. Drew is 31 years old and, until this year, has struggled to stay healthy since 2011. His injury history is fairly concerning, but it's also the reason he should remain affordable.
If he's available on a short multi-year deal—somewhere around $10 million per—the Mets should jump at the opportunity to drastically elevate production at the position.
Left Field: David Murphy
After struggling mightily in 2013—to the tune of a .656 OPS—the Mets would do well to buy low on Murphy and put an emphatic end to their carousel of failed four-A outfielders.
An OPS+ of 104 indicates that his bat has been slightly above average over the course of his career. Murphy is just one year removed from an OPS+ of 126 in 2012. He's never been less than a 1.0 WAR player, excluding this year.
Even if he only produces at a replacement level offensively, Murphy is something the Mets have often lacked—a major league outfielder.
Nate McLouth is another possibility in left field, but Murphy has the greater potential upside.
Center Field: Juan Lagares
Lagares' emergence was an exciting bright spot in an otherwise dull 2013 season. He earned the starting job in center field and demonstrated to have true MLB value—and plenty of it. His arm and glove work in center were enough to prove that to the Mets beyond a doubt.
He did it with essentially no semblance of an offensive game to speak of, most remarkable of all.
Lagares was worth 3.7 WAR, fourth among NL center fielders who played at least 50 percent of their games at the position, while slashing .242/.281/.352 (AVG/OBP/SLG). Not only was Lagares among the most valuable outfielders in the first 121 games of his career, but he accomplished the feat in complete spite of his bat. And in only a fraction of the games.
For comparative purposes, A.J. Pollack was fifth in terms of WAR at 3.5—just behind Lagares. Pollack's OPS, however, was nearly 100 points higher (.730 to .633). It's a testament to defensive prowess that may very well be unmatched. Any future improvement at the dish—however marginal—could be enough to place him among baseball's elite.
Right Field: Shin-Soo Choo
This is unlikely to come as any surprise—Choo has seemingly been connected to the Mets all year long.
He was a 4.2 WAR player in 2013 and his .389 career OBP makes him an ideal match for an Alderson-led franchise. He'd seamlessly fill the leadoff void and immediately become the second most productive Mets' bat, behind Wright.
His price tag is the primary potential concern, in addition to questionable defensive ability and struggles against left-handed pitching.
My guess? Choo ends up relatively overpriced, but the Mets—with no better alternative—are forced to commit the extra year or two it takes to land a premeir outfield bat.
Lineup Construction and Outlook
If it all goes according to plan, the Mets should feature a very respectable lineup in 2014. Without further ado, here's a look:
At the very least, the chance of sub-average production is minimized at every one of the positions targeted this offseason. For the majority of them, last year's performance was so poor that there's only way direction to go—up.
Only five Mets hitters posted +1 WAR seasons in 2013—Wright, Lagares, Murphy, Satin and Marlon Byrd.
Even a dip in last year's production—at catcher and first base for example—would be more than covered by the additions of Choo and Drew individually.
The pitching staff has more than enough talent to uphold their end of the bargain, and I don't expect them to disappoint. With good health and a surprise performance or two, the new and improved lineup should spell a lot more wins.
All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com
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