Exploring Short, Long-Term Options at Shortstop for the New York Mets
The New York Mets have re-worked their outfield by signing Chris Young and Curtis Granderson, but questions still remain at other positions on the field.
One question mark is at shortstop. Sandy Alderson has been looking for an upgrade to Ruben Tejada, but it's looking more likely that he'll get another chance to play there every day in 2014, according to a tweet from Adam Rubin of ESPN New York.
While Mets fans must brace themselves for the reality of watching Terry Collins pencil Tejada into his starting lineup, there are still options to be explored via the trade market.
Wilfredo Tovar is the only internal option in the upper levels of the minor leagues available to challenge Tejada for some playing time next season.
Top prospects Gavin Cecchini and Amed Rosario are each at least three years away from making landfall in Flushing. It’s imperative for New York to find the right player to fill the gap between now and the time that either one of these prospects is ready to contribute in the major leagues.
The following players are shortstops the Mets could potentially acquire for next season (and possibly beyond) to be part of the solution at this critical position.
A first round selection by the Diamondbacks in the 2009 MLB draft, the future looks bright for Chris Owings. Through five seasons in the minor leagues, the shortstop put up a .291/.320/.441 line in 1,968 at-bats.
He was a force in the Pacific Coast League, hitting .330/.359/.482 in 125 games before getting promoted to make his major league debut with Arizona. His first taste of the big leagues went well as a 21-year-old, hitting .291/.361/.382 in 55 at-bats.
With both him and Didi Gregorius ready to contribute, the Diamondbacks could platoon the two at shortstop, but doing so would seemingly stunt the development of each moving forward. One would imagine they'd prefer to hand one of them the starting job and let them run with it.
Owings provides more offensive upside, and while he looks like an upgrade for New York, there is a lot of risk in trading for him. He's not proven at the major league level, and the current asking price in any potential exchange would be very high.
Jerry Crasnick of ESPN noted the Diamondbacks were in search of an elite starting pitcher at the winter meetings. To pry Owings from their grip, it would likely take either Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard to be included in negotiations.
Including either one of those pitchers is something Sandy Alderson doesn't seem willing to do, and he shouldn't be. The Mets could certainly use a shortstop for the future, but it's not worth a pitcher that is projected to be a major part of the organization's plans in the immediate future.
Trading Ian Kinsler earlier this offseason has alleviated the roster crunch in the middle infield for the Texas Rangers. Second base is now open for top prospect Jurickson Profar to play every day, and Elvis Andrus will continue to man shortstop.
However, Ken Rosenthal tweets Andrus can still be acquired by interested teams in a trade, but they need to be overwhelmed with the return.
Andrus hit .271/.328/.331 with four home runs, 67 RBI, 91 runs scored and 42 stolen bases in 156 games played. In his five-year major league career, he hasn't played in less than 145 games per season. He’s a durable player that Terry Collins could pencil in at the top of the lineup every day, but his contract is a major roadblock.
He’ll earn $6.475 million in 2014, but the 2015 season will begin his eight-year, $118 million extension. This contract keeps him under team control through the 2022 season, but Andrus does have the ability to opt out after each of the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
This would be a nice addition for the Mets to make, but with Rosario and Cecchini three or four years away from making their MLB debut, New York isn't looking for a shortstop with that type of contract.
Andrus is a Scott Boras client, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the shortstop opt out when he gets the opportunity, but that's far from a guarantee.
The asking price for Andrus would likely start at Noah Syndergaard, which should spur Alderson to look elsewhere for an upgrade to Tejada.
Jon Morosi and Ken Rosenthal both heard at the winter meetings that the Cleveland Indians are willing to listen on trade offers for Asdrubal Cabrera. However, Joel Sherman reported the Mets weren't interested in making a deal for the All-Star shortstop.
After two stellar seasons in 2011 and 2012, Cabrera was inconsistent for Cleveland in 2013. The 28-year-old hit .242/.299/.402 with 14 home runs, 35 doubles and 64 RBI. He’s under contract through the 2014 season with a $10 million salary. He’ll be entering free agency next winter.
It's not surprising to hear the Mets aren't interested in Cabrera.
Since 2007, Cabrera has only produced a positive UZR rating once. He’s posted a negative UZR rating six years in a row, including a -12.8 mark for 2013.
His contract and impending free agency would also be an issue.
Ideally, Alderson wants to acquire a shortstop the team can control for more than one year. If they acquired Cabrera with an eye to retaining him, they’d have to immediately start talking about a contract extension.
After seeing what Jhonny Peralta got via free agency, it would be foolish for Cabrera to not test the open market and drive up his value to interested teams.
On the surface, adding Asdrubal to the Mets' lineup would be great, but there are too many variables that can go wrong in this situation to make it possible.
Lowrie has had the tools to be successful in the major leagues, but didn't put it all together until a breakout 2013 campaign for the Oakland Athletics.
In a career-high 154 games played, Lowrie hit .290/.344/.446 with 15 home runs, 75 RBI, 80 runs scored and 45 doubles.
The shortstop is entering his last year of arbitration before entering free agency. MLB Trade Rumors projects he’ll earn a $4.8 million salary next season.
While that is manageable amount for the A’s to pay, general manager Billy Beane has shown in the past he’s not afraid of making bold moves.
However, Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported in November that the A’s need Lowrie at shortstop. Oakland lacks middle infield depth in the big leagues—especially if Lowrie is dealt—but it wouldn't be surprising if Beane sends him packing for the right deal.
Lowrie would be an ideal acquisition for the Mets. His offensive ability is why they inquired about his availability. He's only under contract for one more year before he hits free agency, but his price range could fall to where New York would be willing to negotiate if they wanted to retain him.
Unless Beane and the Oakland front office feel they can sign the shortstop to a multi-year extension beyond 2014, he’ll probably be traded at some point.
His value is as high as it’s ever been, so Sandy should stay in touch with Beane in case he changes his mind after the holidays.
The Diamondbacks acquired Didi Gregorius in a three-team trade last winter including the Cincinnati Reds and Cleveland Indians. With Owings still needing minor league seasoning, Arizona hoped Gregorius could provide some defensive stability at shortstop.
The 23-year-old performed well in his first real taste of major league action. In 103 games played, he hit .252/.332/.373 with seven home runs and 28 RBI, exceeding offensive expectations.
Between him and Owings, Gregorius is likely easier to acquire via trade. Even if the Mets did land him and felt he wasn't ready to be the full-time shortstop, they could form a platoon if they felt it was absolutely necessary. In 265 career at-bats against right-handed pitchers, he’s hitting .275/.355/.419.
It looks like Owings is more capable offensively to play every day than Gregorius, even though he doesn't have much big league experience. He has the type of upside where Arizona is willing to endure the growing pains.
That should make Gregorius available to trade.
While general manager Kevin Towers would probably still want top-tier starting pitching in any swap, Alderson could possibly talk him away from Wheeler and Syndergaard because of Gregorius’ offensive reputation.
Still, Towers has the upper hand with this kind of shortstop depth, so he would have the ability to control any negotiations that occur.
The Diamondbacks have plenty of depth at the shortstop position heading into 2014. If they’re unwilling to trade their younger options, Cliff Pennington could also grab a ticket out of town.
He joined Arizona last winter after the A’s traded him for Chris Young—who is now a Met. In 96 games during 2013, Pennington hit .242/.310/.309 with one home run and 18 RBI. This wouldn’t be a glamorous acquisition on paper, but he could serve multiple purposes for the Mets.
Pennington made $3.25 million last season, so he wouldn't be expensive. He’s also under team control through 2015.
Like I mentioned earlier this week with regard to Dee Gordon, Pennington could do one of three things in New York. In creating competition with Ruben Tejada, he could win the starting job, platoon with Tejada since he’s a switch hitter or be valuable middle infield depth at short and second.
Unlike Owings and Gregorious, the asking price for Pennington wouldn't be nearly as much—possibly a player at the level of Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
If all else falls through on the trade market, Pennington would still give the Mets some options. They lost some of their depth up the middle after non-tendering both Omar Quintanilla and Justin Turner.
While Pennington's salary would be more than both of those players combined, he has a strong glove.
As a part-time player last season (429.1 innings played), he produced a career-best 6.1 UZR rating. With more consistent playing time, he could be more productive than either Quintanilla or Turner were during their time in Flushing.
Alexei Ramirez is the most interesting option for the Mets in their shortstop search. Matthew Cerrone of MetsBlog reported the Chicago White Sox have been willing to listen on offers for him since the non-waiver trade deadline in July, but haven’t seen eye-to-eye with teams on proper compensation.
Entering his age-32 season, Ramirez doesn't have the same power he did at the beginning of his tenure with the White Sox, but he’d be an overall upgrade for New York. He hit .284/.313/.380 with 6 home runs, 48 RBI, 68 runs scored and 30 stolen bases in 2013.
It was his third year in a row playing 158 games for Chicago, showing his durability. His 3.9 percent walk rate isn't desirable, but he would still be a productive member of Collins' lineup.
Ramirez has also put together a solid reputation with his glove. He's posted a positive UZR rating for five consecutive seasons, including a 5.5 rating in 2013.
Ramirez is under contract through 2015 and will be earning $9.5 million in 2014, followed by $10 million in 2015. His deal includes a $10 million club option for 2016, or a $1 million buyout.
This would be the perfect situation for New York. He’s a shortstop with proven big league success at the plate and in the field. While his on-base percentage doesn't make people go crazy, he could still be an option to lead off with his speed.
He’s not the youngest of players New York is looking at, but they could control him for up to three seasons at a reasonable rate. That would allow the organization enough time to find out whether there is a furture or not for Cecchini or Rosario.
The White Sox have made moves this winter to get younger and gain more payroll flexibility. It's unclear what Chicago is looking for in return, but Alderson can use some of his minor league prospects to try and pique their interest and solidify a position that currently is in flux.
Matt's Mets opinion has been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Yahoo! Sports, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.
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