The New York Mets still need improve this offseason if they want to compete for a playoff spot in 2014, and they can do so by trading for a shortstop.
Stephen Drew is the only legitimate option who is a free agent. Considering the Mets are only willing to sign him to a one- or two-year deal, Drew returning to Boston is more likely. Outside of Drew, the best options are on the trade market.
While every team in the league would love to have a shortstop to build around, the Arizona Diamondbacks have an excess of major league-ready shortstops who should be impact big leaguers for a long time. After acquiring Didi Gregorius for Trevor Bauer in a three-team trade last winter and drafting Chris Owings in the supplemental first round in 2009 out of high school, the Diamondbacks have the happy problem of having too many young shortstops.
Arizona also has been in search of established starting pitching all offseason, as Buster Olney tweeted earlier this offseason.
One of the pitchers the Diamondbacks are talking about, along with Jeff Samardzija and others, is Justin Masterson. They're pushing for a P.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 10, 2013
With the Diamondbacks' trade for Mark Trumbo it is clear they want to win now. Both Gregorius and Owings can’t play shortstop simultaneously, so it would be wise for the Diamondbacks to trade one of their young studs for starting pitching.
That’s where the Mets come in. New York has a number of established pitchers either in the prime of their careers or on the cusp of promising ones, many of whom would appeal to the Diamondbacks.
The two teams match up on for a trade very well, with the Mets having no legitimate options at shortstop other than Ruben Tejada and the Diamondbacks in need of a starter to solidify their rotation.
This article will focus on Owings rather than Gregorius, as the Mets should target Owings for his greater offensive upside. Arizona general manager Kevin Towers also compared Gregorius to Derek Jeter, so it’s pretty clear he values Gregorius more than the rest of the league, therefore making Gregorius less likely to be dealt.
I will first explain why the Mets should want Chris Owings, and then present three realistic trades that the Mets could make to acquire the young shortstop.
Why the Mets should want Chris Owings
Although Chris Owings has limited experience at the major league level, he should be an impact shortstop for a long time.
The Topps 2013 Pacific Coast League Player of the Year has plus bat speed that allows him to hit balls with authority and gives him the potential to hit for extra-base power. He combines this with a great feel for hitting, which should allow him to be a perennial .280 hitter.
Owings isn't the most patient at the plate, but considering the lack of impact hitting shortstops across baseball, Owings should be well above average offensively at the position. Owings' extra-base hit potential is evident in the below video.
As a 21-year-old in the hitter-friendly PCL, he had a concerning walk rate of just 3.8 percent, but at the same time showed off his hitting prowess with a .330 batting average and .482 slugging percentage. In Ruben Tejada’s single quality season in 2012 in which he hit .289, he had a walk rate of just 5.4 percent and slugged only .351.
Owings' fielding is a concern, as he has over 20 errors per season since 2011. However, he displays impressive instincts at shortstop which imply that the high error totals could decline with more experience and could be inflated by the poor quality of minor league infields. Owings was especially impressive defensively in the futures game, making a number of solid plays, especially when he went back nicely on a pop-up.
Acquiring Owings would give the Mets a young shortstop who could be a cornerstone of the resurgence of New York Met baseball, as he has the ability to be an impact hitter at a premium position.
Now, with the Diamondbacks not having a place for Owings to play every day, the Mets need to figure out what packages they would need to put together in order to get the young shortstop as well as decide if making the deals would help both their long- and short-term goals.
Mets trade SP Dillon Gee to Diamondbacks for SS Chris Owings
Dillon Gee established himself as a solid mid-rotation starter in 2013 who is an integral part of the Mets' 2014 playoff chances, but they need to give something to get something.
Last year Gee came just one inning short of 200 innings and pitched a 3.62 ERA. A mid-rotation starter may not be the sexiest trade piece, but Arizona’s best pitcher, 2013 All Star Patrick Corbin, had an ERA only slightly better than Gee’s, sitting at 3.42.
The Mets have plenty of reasons not to trade Gee. Right now, the Mets' top four starters are their most dependable assets (outside of David Wright), with the fifth spot likely occupied by a young starter with promise or a cheap veteran yet to be signed this offseason. If the Mets trade Gee, the 2014 team will be forced to be more reliant on young and unproven starters, changing the team’s strength into a potential weakness.
Losing Gee would hurt the Mets' pitching depth, but because of the multitude of promising young starters New York has on the horizon, risking the 2014 rotation’s stability could be worth it if it could acquire Owings.
Mets Trade SP Jenrry Mejia to Diamondbacks for SS Chris Owings
Jenrry Mejia has the upside as a starter that the Diamondbacks desire, and the risk that comes with Mejia could make the Mets comfortable with letting him go.
Coming into spring training, Mejia is the front-runner for the fifth starter position in the Mets rotation. Last summer he burst onto the scene once after years of being forgotten, coming back from injuries. He looked like a young Pedro Martinez on the mound, both in appearance and as a pitcher, with Mejia's size and afro, along with his devastating changeup, reminiscent of the former ace.
Mejia was truly amazing in his short 2013 stint. In 27.1 innings, he allowed only 28 hits and four walks while pitching to a 2.30 ERA.
The great talent Mejia put on display in 2013 is why the Diamondbacks would consider parting with Owings, but Mejia comes with a lot of risk. In his career in both the major and minor leagues, he has yet to pitch more than 100 innings in a season and has only eclipsed the 90-inning mark twice.
Mejia’s small frame has always brought up questions about whether he would ever be able to pitch enough innings to be a starter, and the time he’s missed due to injury just adds to those concerns.
The Diamondbacks may prefer the more predictable pitcher in Dillon Gee, but Gee lacks Mejia's upside. If the Mets were willing to sacrifice their 2014 rotation and make both Gee and Mejia available for Owings, the Diamondbacks could choose between the upside of Mejia or the stability of Gee.
Mets Trade SP Rafael Montero, OF Brandon Nimmo, SP Jake deGrom and SP Gabriel Ynoa to Diamondbacks for SS Chris Owings
This is by far the least likely of the three scenarios present. The Mets would need to create a prospect package around Rafael Montero to acquire the Diamondbacks shortstop.
The prospects in this deal are interchangeable, but the point is that the Mets would need to give up a number of assets other than Montero to acquire Owings. Montero is not highly valued around the league despite his impressive minor league numbers because of his small frame and lack of overwhelming stuff. Montero’s most optimistic projection is as a No. 3 starter at best, but he could be destined for the bullpen.
Unless the Diamondbacks are as high on Montero as most Mets fans, the team will need to include a number of other pieces. Nimmo, deGrom and Ynoa are just examples of a combination of lower-level minor league talent with upside and talent close to the majors it would take to get a deal done. Deals exclusively involving prospects also rarely happen, making this scenario less likely.
If the Mets are unwilling to trade Mejia or Gee in a deal for Owings, they could turn to this option, however. If the Mets think Montero is destined for the bullpen in the future, they could try and sell high on him in a package to get Owings. They should be careful in considering this deal, however, as Montero’s superb feel for pitching bodes well for his future as a potential mid-rotation starter.
Which one of these deals would you prefer the Mets make?
The Mets should be pursuing Chris Owings aggressively and be willing to sacrifice their starting pitching depth if necessary. If the Diamondbacks assert they want additional players than Gee or Mejia, the Mets should back out, but considering the Diamondbacks' need for starters, both pitchers should be more than a fair price.
Sacrificing starting pitching depth is always tough to do. However, with the chance to acquire a shortstop with an impact bat combined with the promising young pitchers on the horizon for the Mets, Sandy Alderson should look into these different trade scenarios.
Propose your own trades in the comment section below, and follow Sean on twitter at @S_CunninghamBR.