New York Mets: 5 Big Offseason Questions That Still Need to Be Answered
The New York Mets have kept the promise they made to fans before the end of the 2013 regular season—this winter has been an active one. Sandy Alderson has already made more significant moves this offseason than the last three combined—Chris Young, Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon have all been added to the big league roster.
On paper, the Mets have improved as a team, but more work is needed for them to be considered a legitimate playoff contender in 2014.
In leaving this year’s winter meetings, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York noted Alderson’s desire to continue being active:
We're very happy. And, I think, we're positioned to do perhaps some other things later on. But we're happy with the four days. I think what we're going to do is go home, reassess what's available to us. And as we get into the last part of December and even into January, I'm sure we'll do some things. They may not be spectacular—but, we hope, additive to what we've already done.
Each of the following questions are important and must be answered before the Mets begin the 2014 regular season on March 31 against the Washington Nationals.
What Does the Future Hold for Wilmer Flores?
Wilmer Flores hit .211/.248/.295 in 95 at-bats for New York after getting called up in August. He played well before an ankle injury severely limited his time on the field down the stretch.
Spring training will be important for Flores because if the coaching staff doesn’t think he can contribute in a major league role (as a regular or reserve), he will be back in Triple-A to get regular playing time.
To prepare himself for the crucial year ahead, the young infielder participated in a month-long fitness camp before playing winter ball in Venezuela.
Flores reportedly increased his speed and dropped a couple pounds during the camp. He’s used that progress to post a .385/.449/.551 line in 78 winter league at-bats.
Collins hinted that Flores’ increased quickness could allow him to stick in the big leagues as a reserve middle infielder, including time at shortstop (according to Adam Rubin of ESPN New York).
The organization has coveted his bat since he was signed as a 16-year-old. After hitting .321/.357/.521 in 107 games played last season for the Las Vegas 51s in Triple-A, he’s ready to contribute at the major league level. If he can adapt to a bench role and Terry Collins can find him somewhat regular playing time, he can become a valuable commodity for New York.
Or Alderson could use him as part of a trade package to answer one of the upcoming questions.
Who Will Get Traded?
With approximately $30 million committed to Young, Granderson and Colon in 2014, any further moves this winter will likely come via trade. The players rumored to be on the trade black include Ike Davis, Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy.
There has been more interest this winter in Davis than Duda, probably because of the 32 home runs he hit in 2012. Alderson sounds determined to deal whichever one will bring back the most return, allowing the other to get a shot at the starting first base job.
The acquisitions of Young and Granderson have created a logjam in the outfield. If Juan Lagares is the center fielder on Opening Day, Terry Collins must figure out what to do with Eric Young Jr.
One would assume that’s why Murphy has become available in trade talks. If he’s dealt, it would allow Young to become the regular second baseman. If he’s not traded, Collins will have to either create a rotation to keep his leadoff hitter in the lineup, or figure out who else can do it.
Of these three, Davis is the most likely player to get a ticket out of town. Despite his disappointing 2013, there has been interest in the first baseman. However, Alderson is still looking for a decent return in a trade.
Teams may get desperate for cheap power at first base late in the winter, but it would make for an interesting storyline if Davis is still with the Mets when position players report to Port St. Lucie in February.
Who Will Have the Chance to Play First Base?
The position of first base is very much in flux for the Mets. This question can only get answered once Davis or Duda gets traded.
Once this takes place, there will be another question needing an answer: Will the remaining first baseman play every day or platoon with Josh Satin?
Davis is a career .204/.268/.334 hitter against southpaws. Duda is even worse—he’s sporting a .183/.309/.301 line against lefties during his major league career.
If the Mets want to compete for a wild-card spot next season, Collins must have consistently productive lineups. Keeping one of these left-handed hitting first basemen in against southpaws may create black holes in Collins’ lineups. Platoons can be effective, and the emergence of Satin gives the manager some options.
There is a chance the combination of Satin with Davis or Duda could be successful. In 82 at-bats against left-handers last season, Satin hit .317/.404/.476, compared to a .250/.354/.352 line in 108 at-bats against righties.
With most of the heavy lifting for upgrading the roster already done, there likely won’t be an external solution to first base for 2014. Jerry Crasnick tweets that Scott Boras is trying to persuade the Mets they need Kendry Morales, but that won’t happen. At least one of these three will receive significant playing time next season.
The recent acquisitions would allow Duda or Davis to hit lower in the lineup, not feeling as much pressure to produce. That decrease in stress could lead to either one of them having success in Flushing.
Alderson will ultimately decide which player will get that opportunity with the Mets.
Will Ruben Tejada Be the Opening Day Shortstop?
Alderson’s desire to find an external solution for shortstop has not been a secret.
I recently looked at shortstop options for the Mets to consider, but Alderson is expecting to start 2014 with Tejada as the everyday shortstop, according to a tweet from Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger.
Again, Boras is also trying to engage the “Amazins” in talks for Stephen Drew, according to Crasnick. New York likes Drew, but he’d have to lower his asking price to a two-year contract for talks to advance.
If a trade for a starter doesn’t materialize, they’ll need to acquire veteran depth. Wilfredo Tovar is currently the only other player behind Tejada on the depth chart.
To create depth and/or competition, Dee Gordon or Cliff Pennington are viable trade options. They’ve also shown an interest in Cesar Izturis; Mike Puma of the New York Post tweeted it wouldn’t be surprising if they signed him.
Unless something drastic happens over the next month, the shortstop job will be Tejada’s to lose. If he continues to be ineffective, New York must have an experienced player on board as part of its contingency plan.
The Mets could hand Tovar a lot of playing time, but having a capable veteran would provide guidance for a player with seven games in the big leagues under his belt.
Who Will Hit Leadoff?
It’s currently unknown whether or not Eric Young Jr. will have a starting job for the Mets next season.
His presence at the top instantly made the lineup more dynamic. It was nice to see a player use his legs to put pressure on the defense—that hadn’t been done since Jose Reyes was a Met.
Not seeing Young somewhere on the field next year would be tough to fathom—he was the 2013 National League stolen base champion and was a Gold Glove finalist. Alderson’s offseason moves to this point could make that a reality.
Collins might have to find someone to hit leadoff when Young isn’t playing.
As the roster is currently constructed, there are two realistic candidates Collins could use at the top of the lineup. Those players include Juan Lagares and Ruben Tejada.
Lagares’ .242/.281/.352 line in 392 at-bats last season doesn’t scream leadoff hitter, but he does own a .322 career on-base percentage in parts of eight seasons in the minor leagues. He’s also playing well in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .342/.379/.412.
Tejada’s .202/.259/.260 line from 2013 was one of the year’s greatest disappointments, but he’s shown a previous ability to perform well as a leadoff hitter.
In 99 career games started at the top of the order, Tejada owns a .272/.318/.337 line. Again, that won’t light the world on fire, but it is serviceable enough to fill in for Young.
Chris Young could also be a viable option for Collins, but it would be ideal to use his power in the middle of the lineup to drive in runs.
There are still over three months to Opening Day 2014, but these five questions need solutions before the Mets attempt to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006.
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