The New York Mets have had some exciting stories this camp with the performances of their top prospects. Yet, on the major league level they still have a number of questions to be answered, specifically at shortstop.
As SNY’s Kevin Burkhardt tweeted Monday, the Mets' most important stories in camp have yet to resolve themselves:
Opening day for the Mets is 2 weeks away, and still they have not answered any of the important questions they had entering spring training.— Kevin Burkhardt (@kevinburkhardt) March 17, 2014
The main questions heading into camp were: "Who would win the first base competition between Ike Davis and Lucas Duda?" and "Who would be the Mets Opening Day shortstop?"
Davis and Duda have both been hurt throughout camp and are untradable until they get some time on the field, and the incumbent shortstop Ruben Tejada has been dreadful both on the field and at the plate.
While the first base situation is a mess, it appears as if the answer will come from within the organization. As for last minute moves the Mets need to make, all the potential deals involve acquiring a shortstop.
This topic has been beaten into the ground by Mets writers and fans all spring, and hasn’t been helped by the play of Tejada. New York must acquire a shortstop before the season starts, as the current answer is likely not on the roster.
Tejada gave the Mets reason to sour on him last season with his poor play, but despite this he was still the favorite to win the starting job heading into spring training. He has done little to earn the position, playing consistently poor defense and not producing at the plate for the entirety of spring training.
The Mets have tried Wilmer Flores at shortstop during camp as an alternative option, and right now he seems like the superior choice to Tejada, despite his lack of range. While Flores’ bat would provide exceptional value at the position, shortstop is one of the most important defensive positions on the field. The Mets would likely not want to put Flores and his poor range at shortstop unless they are forced to because of Tejada’s gross play.
So, with far-from-ideal options presently on the roster, the Mets need to acquire one of the shortstops available on the market, and should try to do so sooner rather than later.
Trade for Nick Franklin
There are a number of young shortstops available on the trade market, and the Mets have a plethora of right-handed pitching that they could make available to push a trade through. The Seattle Mariners currently have a crowded middle-infield, and could be an ideal trade partner with the Mets, due to their excess at shortstop.
The Mariners had their middle-infield of the future lined up going into the offseason with Brad Miller at shortstop and Nick Franklin at second base, but after signing Robinson Cano this offseason, there is no longer room for both Miller and Franklin.
Miller is the superior defender of the two, and is a well above-average shortstop by all accounts. Franklin, a natural shortstop, moved to second base as he and Miller ascended through the Mariners farm system. Because of Miller’s defensive ability and overall package as a shortstop, Franklin has been the player made available to other teams, and the Mets may strike a deal for him if they feel like he can play short.
Acquiring Franklin could potentially cost the Mets Rafael Montero, and determining whether that is a good deal for New York is a complicated question, largely dependent on Franklin’s defensive capabilities.
ESPN’s Keith Law is often critical of players' ability to stay at shortstop, but he is optimistic about Franklin. In response to a fan asking whether or not Franklin can be an adequate major league shortstop, Law responded:
I actually do. Maybe somewhere between 0 to -5 runs a year on defense, but with his bat, that will work – and I won’t rule out the possibility that he can be more than that. He has unusually good instincts out there.
That is not the industry consensus, however. Baseball Prospectus’ Mark Anderson wrote about Franklin’s defense upon his big league debut:
He is limited at shortstop, offering only modest range and an arm that earns below-average to fringe-average grades. He has decent hands and solid instincts but they are not enough to make him a palatable defender on the left side of the infield long term.
Franklin is a plus-offensive player, who could pass at second base but would likely be below average defensively at shortstop. Flores is currently a very similar option as a shortstop, and determining whether the defensive upgrade of Franklin over Flores is worth giving up a promising young pitcher like Montero is a decision the Mets front office has to make based on their own opinion of Franklin’s defensive ability.
While trading Montero for Franklin may be too steep of a price, Metsblog’s Matthew Cerrone believes a deal could go down without the Mets sacrificing the young Dominican:
I’d say the chance of acquiring Franklin for, say, Vic Black, would be 50-50 before Opening Day. In the event other teams are in the mix, Seattle may ask for Rafael Montero, at which point there is no chance of a deal.
Vic Black is a nice potential bullpen piece, but he has little big league experience and serious command concerns. If the Mets can convince the Mariners to deal Franklin for Black, that would be a coup for New York. Black was the secondary prospect in the Marlon Byrd trade last August, and turning him into Franklin would greatly increase the Mets overall organizational talent and put them in a great situation moving forward—if he can in fact play shortstop.
Trade for Chris Owings or Didi Gregorius
Like the Mariners, the Arizona Diamondbacks have the rare problem of possessing too many shortstops, and they could also match up well with the Mets for a trade.
Heading into spring training, Didi Gregorius was the favorite to win the starting shortstop position in Arizona, but a recent report by ESPN’s Jim Bowden has Chris Owings as the leader. Gregorius is a dominant defensive player at short, yet he has a lighter bat. Owings is a flawed offensive player who is overly aggressive at the plate, but makes loud contact and is an improving defensive player.
I have always preferred Owings as a trade option for the Mets, as New York is a team built on pitching that already sacrifices offense for defense in their lineup with players like Juan Lagares. Owings is just 22 years old and could be a plus-offensive shortstop for the next decade.
Some may question Owings’ defense because of his high error totals in the minors, but I have scouted him in person and came away impressed with his smooth actions and great instincts at shortstop.
Earlier this offseason, I wrote about how the Mets could trade for Owings, arguing that a deal built around Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia or Montero and other prospects could get it done. However, ESPN’s Adam Rubin reported that the Diamondbacks sent scouts to watch the Mets minor league pitchers, indicating that they are more interested in younger pitchers such as Montero.
Because Gregorius is losing the shortstop battle, he is likely the one the Diamondbacks would trade if they can reach an agreement with the Mets, a notion further substantiated by Rubin.
Gregorius is a plus-plus defender, but he is light with the bat and would likely bat near the bottom of the Mets lineup during his tenure in New York. He doesn’t make loud contact and has fringe-average bat-speed. However, he does not have an abominable approach at the plate, as he reached base last season at a .332 clip while hitting .252, exhibiting unimpressive yet not terrible patience.
Arizona general manager Kevin Towers recently stated publicly that he would consider dealing one of the team’s shortstops if they could receive a young catcher in return. The Mets could deal promising catching prospect Kevin Plawecki, but they would likely have to include a pitcher such as Rafael Montero as well in order to get a deal done.
The issue with acquiring Gregorius is that he would likely produce no more at the plate than Tejada would, and they are both the same age. No matter what, Gregorius is a better defender than Tejada, but Tejada was once considered a very stable defensive shortstop. Trading away Montero and Kevin Plawecki would be giving up an awful lot, and taking the chance that Tejada gets out of his defensive funk may be worth the price of holding onto valuable assets.
If the Mets make a deal with Arizona, they should push for Owings over Gregorius. The Mets are loaded with starting pitching depth and should dip into it to acquire greater positional depth, but only if they are offered the right deal.
Sign Stephen Drew
Stephen Drew is still a free agent, but as I have written previously, the Mets should only strike on Drew if the price is right:
The Mets need a shortstop, and Drew is there for the taking, but they should by no means overpay in their pursuit of Drew…. With other options still available, and with Drew’s inconsistency throughout his career, the Mets should offer no more than a one-year, $10 million contract or a two-year, $18 million deal.
This scenario seems unlikely, as the Mets seem firm in their negotiations with Drew, and with teams such as the Detroit Tigers suddenly in need of a shortstop, Drew’s price should rise.
As I wrote in my piece from last Thursday, whether or not the Mets should sign Drew depends on his actual value and his value to the Mets. Drew is a flawed player, yet the Mets need at shortstop should make him highly valuable. However, based on the fact that the Mets haven’t signed him yet this offseason, the front office clearly has its concerns about Drew as a player.
As long as Drew’s price stays the same or rises, don’t expect to see the Mets sign him, but if the market on Drew cools and the Mets become more desperate, a deal could go down.
So What’s Going to Happen?
Of these potential acquisitions, I would say that trading for Didi Gregorius is the most likely outcome. The issue with the Mets current shortstop options outside of the poorly performing Tejada is that there are questions about whether or not they are true shortstops. Despite his flaws, Gregorius is as pure a shortstop defensively as they come.
The Diamondbacks also have little incentive to begin the season with both Owings and Gregorius on the roster, and therefore if the Mets were to make Plawecki and another young pitcher available, Arizona could pull the trigger. If the deal is for Gregorius, I would not include Montero as the secondary piece to Plawecki, but if it was someone like Vic Black or a combination of lower-level arms, that would be a more reasonable deal. However, because of Patrick Corbin's recent UCL tear, Arizona may insist upon a major-league-ready arm like Montero.
Trading for Franklin is definitely another possibility, but a lot of it depends on whether or not the Mets believe he can play short. If they believe he can, they may sacrifice Montero, but if they question whether or not he is capable, they could still sacrifice Black.
What do you think the Mets will do?
While Seattle also has little incentive to go into the season with Franklin on the roster, enough teams should be interested in his services so that the Mariners would ask for more than Black, which is why I doubt that deal occurs.
Signing Drew is still a possibility, but with injuries making other teams interested in his services and therefore raising his price, the Mets ending up as his final destination becomes even more unlikely. If Drew’s price doesn’t rise and the Mets go into the season with Tejada at short, a match between the two sides could potentially happen following the June draft if the Mets are still in contention.
Whether Tejada starts figuring it out or Flores proves he is a capable shortstop can change all of this, but as of today, the Mets need to acquire one of these shortstops before the season begins (but only if the price is right).
Sean Cunningham is a Featured Columnist for the Mets at Bleacher Report and also writes and scouts for Perfect Game. You can follow Sean on twitter at @SCunninghamPG.