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Mets: Shortstops the New York Mets Should Pursue This Winter

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Mets: Shortstops the New York Mets Should Pursue This Winter
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Take the time to study the New York Mets roster. Compare New York's 2013 starters, position-by-position, to their National League foes. Find the holes. Discern the potential areas of improvement standing between the Mets and contention.

Spoiler alert—it's everywhere but third base.

The Mets' current weakness at shortstop is especially pronounced. Led by Ruben Tejada and Omar QuintanillaMets' shortstops posted a woeful .598 OPS in 2013. Something needs to be done to correct the glaring hole to Daniel Murphy's right. You could find his potential new double-play partner below—where I've compiled a list of shortstops for the Mets to pursue this winter.

If you're a proponent of strength up the middle, the Mets are already covered at catcher, second base and center field. That leaves shortstop unaccounted for, as those following along at home know.

Sandy Alderson has admitted to being uncomfortable moving forward with the options already under team control. Management, at one time, thought they had a long term solution in Tejada. That idea is now all but dead.

Tejada has experienced a self-inflicted fall from grace, and Wilfredo Tovar—the only other somewhat viable internal candidate—could still use plenty of seasoning at the minor league level.  At least until proving capable of hitting enough to assume a major league starting job, even if he appears ready defensively. 

What should Alderson do to fill the void at shortstop?

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There's no clear-cut replacement either. No guaranteed remedy, in terms of production, to find.  With the possible exception of Troy Tulowitzki who—if attainable at all—will prove extraordinarily costly, no big-ticket item exists.  

But there is some potential available.  

Let us not forget how uncertain the Red Sox' 2013 offseason initially appeared.  No free-agent contract was met with more—let's just say, ambivalence—than the one handed to Shane Victorino.  As it turned out, they hit on nearly all of a bevy of mid-level acquisitions. That's not always the case. The universally praised approach might be perceived in a vastly different light were it not for a whole lot of luck.

How does the mid-level-talent-focused strategy incorporated by the Boston Red Sox last offseason pertain to the Mets this winter?

Boston had superior talent—and more of it—already in place. The Mets, on the other hand, were victimized by regression at a couple of positions (first base and shortstop) last year. Positions, now heading into the 2014 season, that require formerly unanticipated attention. 

It isn't perfect, admittedly, but it's still a route the relatively cash strapped Mets are probably best served embracing. It can begin with the shortstop market.  

The good news is that the Mets should have slightly—if not notably—less ground to make up in the standings. Affordable short-term contracts helped turn the 93-loss, last place 2012 Red Sox into the 97-win, American League champions, in only a year's time. Comparatively, New York finished third in the NL East with 74 wins this past season.

Some of the following players could be a reach, but they've all merited some form of discussion and profile well for a team with a shortstop vacancy. The under-the-radar names should spark Alderson's interest, even if the resulting talks only amount to a little tire-spinning.

Have someone else in mind? A difference in opinion? I'd love to hear it in the comments section. 

 

The Shortstop Market, Questions and Organizational Chips

The free agency market for shortstops is headlined by a couple of solid players in Stephen Drew and Johnny Peralta.  

Several more, who could potentially be had via trade, have drawn the interest of the Mets' community as well. They combine to form a respectable—and rather surprising—group of alternatives.

Time to jump right into it. All ages in the table below are current as of October 20.

Shortstop Candidates & 2013 Statistics Sorted by OPS
Team Player Age Offensive WAR Defensive WAR OPS
UFA* J. Peralta 31 3.2 0.7 .815
UFA* S. Drew 30 3.2 0.6 .777
TBR H. Lee** 22 N/A N/A .753
ARI C. Owings 22 0.3 0.1 .742
TEX L. Sardinas** 20 N/A N/A .699
TBR Y. Escobar 30 2.8 1.5 .698
NYM W. Tovar** 22 N/A N/A .652
HOU J. Villor 22 0.5 -0.1 .640
CHC S. Castro 23 0.4 -0.2 .631
NYM R. Tejada 23 -0.2 -0.4 .519

Baseball-Reference.com

* Expected to be an unrestricted free agent this winter.

** Insufficient MLB results.  OPS indicates full MiLB career.

Drew and Peralta, by no surprise, represent the most readily predictable performance of the potential acquisitions.

The mere existence of a legitimate major league track record is an advantage, from an evaluation standpoint, and that can't be overstated. Both free agents can be counted on to step right into the franchise's current hole and provide an above average bat at the position. Their resumes bear valuable assurance.

But even an established veteran isn't immune to a risk factor. Drew has played an average of just 96 games per season since 2011 and a Biogenesis link makes Peralta's career arc more difficult to judge

Another approach involves pursuing a younger and significantly less experienced alternative. To land a solid prospect the Mets will need the right assets, for the right team, under the right circumstances to make a mutually beneficial deal possible.  

Who has the demands and assets to make them a potential Mets' trade partner? A team looking for pitching help is probably best suited. Even after Matt Harvey's devastating injury, the franchise has the starting pitching depth to make a trade.

Between Dillon Gee, Jeremy Hefner, Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero, Michael Fulmer, Gabriel Ynoa and Cory Mazzoni, the Mets appear to have the ability to put a strong package together.  It might be the most cost-effective route to take. Resources are limited and the money saved on a shortstop can be utilized for other roster blemishes.

The not-so-simple question is—would the Mets rather spend money in free agency, or trade assets to acquire a shortstop instead?

 

Analysis and Outlook

The Mets suffered from exceedingly low production out of the shortstop position all year. Of all their roster flaws around the diamond, shortstop was arguably the most damning. A sentiment mirrored by a positional ranking near the bottom of Major League Baseball in OPS (26th), wRC+ (24th) and WAR (26th)—and loudly echoing an organization's dire need for an upgrade.  

/Getty Images

The table in the previous section indicates the opportunity shouldn't be too elusive, either.  

If nothing else—improvement certainly won't take much.

Despite Drew's injury-plagued past and Peralta's PED-concerns, they're probably the best candidates in terms of overall dependability. The Mets could certainly do much worse. If their contract demands remain reasonable—somewhere around $10 million a season on a relatively short term deal—the potential solution could be difficult to pass up.

Yunel Escobar, similarly, offers an intriguing veteran option. He may not hit at the level of the aforementioned shortstops, but advanced metrics paint a picture of exemplary defensive prowess. Strong enough to cover the margin for any net-loss he might pose offensively and then some.  

Should Escobar become available, he's an ideal candidate. How the Rays plan on handling his team-option this winter, however, remains to be seen.

Bear in mind that youngsters like Hak-Ju Lee and Luis Sardinas, while talented and financially appealing, are unlikely to begin 2014 at the major league level.  It could be several weeks before they're ready to make big league contributions.

Does the Mets' current plan permit such patience?  Most curious of all, perhaps—is the front office comfortable starting the year with Tejada in Queens while a prospect refines his craft elsewhere?

The Chicago Cubs and Arizona Diamondbacks have what New York wants. Organizational depth at shortstop could render Starlin Castro and Chris Owings expendable commodities.

Castro is just 23 years old but struggled for much of 2013. Cubs' prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara are steadily rising through the minor league ranks behind Castro and creating some appeal in the process.  As for Owings, his potential path to an everyday job in Arizona is currently blocked by Didi Gregorious and Cliff PenningtonAlderson would do well to explore the respective availability of both.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

For more Mets info and plenty of other random musings, follow me on Twitter: 

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