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Friday, August 30, 2013

The State of the Mets Part 1: Infield Hits & Misses




David Wright seems to be the only sure thing about the Mets' future infield.


Shale Briskin
MM Assistant Editor


With the final month of the 2013 season approaching, the Mets will likely spend the rest of their games evaluating some of their young talented players, while trying to make the most of the season. Now would also be a good time to not only review the 2013 season thus far, but also evaluate what the 2014 and future rosters could look like going forward.

Here is the first of a four-part series that analyzes the Mets' present and future by each position. We will start with catching and the infield

Catcher

The Present:

John Buck had been starting for most of the season, but recently, top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud was called up and shortly afterward, Buck, who hit 15 home runs and drove in 60 RBI with the Mets, was placed on waivers and was subsequently traded to the Pirates.

d'Arnaud is now the Mets' everyday catcher and will very likely hold that title for the rest of the season. d'Arnaud has struggled at the plate since his promotion, with a .107 average, one home run and three RBI. Nonetheless, he is clearly the Mets' catcher of the future and his presence is definitely one of the most stable across the entire Mets' lineup. In other words, there isn't much of a question mark at catcher because d'Arnaud is expected to be there for the Mets for many years.

Anthony Recker has been a very solid backup catcher all season. Despite a .198 average, he has six home runs and 18 RBI, which is not bad for a backup. Recker's opportunities were limited early in the season thanks to Buck's hot start, but his playing time has increased as the season has progressed.
2014:

d'Arnaud will almost certainly be the Mets' starting catcher in 2014, and there is a good chance Recker will return as his backup. The only thing that could change this is if d'Arnaud is injured.

The Future:

Barring any injuries or unforeseen trades, d'Arnaud will be the Mets' catcher of the future. This position is as stable as any for the future. Time will tell how long Recker lasts as the backup, but he could join the Mets' lineage of long-time backups, which includes catchers like Duffy Dyer, Ron Hodges, Todd Pratt and Vance Wilson.

The Mets have another notable catching prospect in Kevin Plawecki. Plawecki though is playing for Single A St. Lucie and is probably not going to be major league ready for a few seasons at least. The likelihood of Plawecki one day overtaking d'Arnaud is unlikely, but it's always nice to have additional depth at a position such as catcher.

First Base

The Present:

First base has been a logjam for the Mets all season. Ike Davis for the most part has been the starting first baseman, but after a long slump for most of the first half, Davis was demoted to the minor leagues in mid-June. He was called back up in early July and has hit better in the second half, although not as well as he did in the second half of the 2012 season. Davis is currently batting .204 with just eight home runs and 30 RBI.

While Davis was in the minor leagues, Josh Satin got his first big opportunity to play every day and was the Mets' primary first baseman in Davis' absence. Satin is batting .280 with two home runs and 12 RBI in 132 at-bats. Since Davis was brought back up, Satin has gotten starts at first base usually against a left-handed starting pitcher, in what has turned into more or less, a platoon.

2014:

In 2014, the Mets could decide to non-tender Davis, which would make him a free agent. Davis is currently under team control through 2017, but after an inconsistent season in 2012 and a lost season this year, the Mets could decide to go in a different direction at the position. However, Davis still seems to have the most potential among all of the Mets' internal options.
Satin may not necessarily be the answer at first base. He will probably not provide the power and run production that Davis is capable of doing. Satin is better off as a utility infielder off the bench, being that he can also play second base and third base. Nonetheless, he is definitely in the mix next season to be the starting first baseman.

Another option at the position is Lucas Duda. Duda (.235 average, 11 home runs, 23 RBI in 230 at-bats) was the Mets' Opening Day left fielder, but after suffering an intercostal injury in mid-June, Duda went on the disabled list and ultimately lost his left field job to the speedy Eric Young Jr. Now that Duda is back on the roster, he will very likely be only playing first base for the rest of the season.
Unless the Mets decide to cut Davis loose, it seems inevitable that Duda's time with the Mets is all but over. The Mets will have to choose who to keep between the two and will likely trade one of them away. With Davis being better defensively and having proven more at the major league level, Duda seems more likely to be dealt away in the offseason. Duda never seemed like a particularly great fit for the Mets. He has the power potential to be a feared slugger, but he just has not put it all together yet. Furthermore, his defense has not been good in the outfield and probably is not as good as Davis' at first base. Hence, a trade to an American League team in need of a first baseman or designated hitter would be best for Duda in the long run.

A fourth option is the young right-handed hitting Wilmer Flores. Flores has been playing third base since his August promotion, due to David Wright's hamstring injury. However, once Wright is healthy again, the Mets will need to either find a spot in the infield for Flores, or trade him away. Flores can play first base and second base adequately. He would be an outside chance to become the Mets' starting first baseman and is more likely to be a second baseman, simply because the Mets have more first base depth.

In the end, unless the Mets decide to not offer Davis a contract, Davis will likely be the Mets' 2014 Opening Day first baseman.

The Future:

The Mets' long-term future at first base is one of the team's biggest question marks. Can Ike Davis become a more consistent hitter and avoid another first-half slump? Will Lucas Duda ever get an opportunity to play first base regularly? Where do Josh Satin and Wilmer Flores fit in? Will any of these players end up getting traded? So much is unknown right now, but general manager Sandy Alderson will probably have to think a lot about what to do at this position

Yet another factor is Dominic Smith, the Mets' first round pick in the 2013 draft. Like Davis, Smith is a left-handed hitting first baseman with power, but he will not be major league-ready for years. As a result, the Mets need to figure out what to do at first base for the next few seasons before Smith is even considered an option. The Mets could also sign or trade for another player to play first base. Time will tell what ends up happening.


Could Lucas Duda be on his way out after this season? GM Sandy Alderson will have a lot of things to figure out in the offseason.

Second Base

The Present:

For the third consecutive season, Daniel Murphy has been the Mets' everyday second baseman. Murphy is batting .277 with 10 home runs, 61 RBI and 18 stolen bases. He leads the Mets this year in hits, runs scored and doubles as well. Murphy's 2013 season has been great in every aspect except walks. In 570 plate appearances, Murphy has drawn just 24 walks all season, which is why his .309 OBP is as low as it is. Murphy is a pure hitter and has never been particularly patient at the plate, but if he can start to draw more walks, his value will increase that much more.

Murphy has started in all but seven games this season, which is great to see. Justin Turner and Jordany Valdespin have gotten very little time at second base because Murphy has been healthy and dependable at the plate. His defense has also kept improving from one year to another.

2014:

It may seem as if Murphy will continue to be the Mets' starting second baseman in 2014, but with the presence of Wilmer Flores, Murphy's job is no longer a lock. The Mets in the offseason will have to decide between trading one of Murphy or Flores. Being that neither of the two can really play shortstop, David Wright entrenched at third base and the presence of a bigger logjam at first base, the chances of seeing Murphy and Flores on the same roster next season is very slim.
Both Murphy and Flores could be useful trade chips that the Mets could use to acquire an outfield bat that they desperately need. Flores' potential could very well be greater than that of Murphy, but because of that, Flores would likely bring in better players because his value on the trade market would be greater.

With this being said, it would be smarter for the Mets to trade away Flores and keep Murphy at second base, just so that the outfield could get upgraded that much more. The Mets know what they will get from Murphy each season, and if the walks ever increase, that would be even better.

The Future:

The Mets don't really have any other major prospects at second base now that Flores is on the major league roster. As a result, whoever does not get traded this offseason between Murphy and Flores will likely remain the Mets' starting second baseman for a good number of years to come. The Mets could always try to find a better second baseman on the open market, but with other issues looming large, don't count on it to happen any time soon.

Shortstop

The Present:

With the Mets' first base logjam and all their woes in the outfield, it could be easy to forget that shortstop is now a big concern for the team. Ruben Tejada was the Opening Day shortstop this year, but after 50 games and 187 at-bats, Tejada was batting .209 with no home runs, 10 RBI and a very low .267 OBP. Tejada first went on the disabled list with a quadriceps injury, but after being activated, was demoted to Triple A Las Vegas. Tejada will probably get called back up in September when the rosters expand, but it's no longer a guarantee that Tejada will be the Mets' Opening Day shortstop in 2014.

In Tejada's absence, Omar Quintanilla has been the Mets' shortstop and has played in nearly every game since his arrival. Quintanilla is batting just .221 with two home runs and 19 RBI, but has been very reliable defensively. Quintanilla is not a long-term solution at shortstop, but he has done well for a fill-in shortstop. His best value is that of a backup middle infielder.

2014:

The Mets' 2014 plans at shortstop all depend on whether they decide to believe in Tejada again or feel that he needs more time in the minor leagues to work on his hitting. The Mets could keep Quintanilla around as a backup middle infielder and then try to sign a free agent shortstop for one or two seasons. That would likely be the safest bet at this point unless Tejada gets a lot of playing time in September and hits very well.

The Future:

The Mets' long-term future is not particularly set for next two or three seasons. 2012 1st round draft pick Gavin Cecchini has spent this season with the Brooklyn Cyclones in Single A. Cecchini has the potential to be a good shortstop, but may not be major-league ready until at least 2016. Filling the hole at shortstop until then could be a difficult task, but hopefully, the Mets will find a solution that works, whether it includes Tejada or not.


Ruben Tejada's future with the Mets is not particularly certain right now.

Third Base

The Present:

With David Wright currently on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Wilmer Flores has gotten an opportunity to play third base until Wright is healthy enough to return. Josh Satin and Justin Turner have both filled in at third base occasionally as well.

Despite Flores being a notable prospect and doing relatively well since his promotion (.250 average, one home run, 11 RBI), third base is Wright's position and almost certainly will be for the rest of his career. Wright is the face of the Mets' franchise and is likely to spend his entire career with the Mets.

2014:

Barring any injuries, Wright will be the Mets' third baseman in 2014. Flores' destiny is either at second base or on another team if he gets traded away.

The Future:

With Wright under contract through 2020, he will continue to be the Mets' third baseman for all those years. After everything he has done for the Mets since 2004, there is no one that would replace him at third base while he is around.

Conclusions & Predictions

Present Starters:

Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud
First Base: Ike Davis
Second Base: Daniel Murphy
Shortstop: Omar Quintanilla
Third Base: Wilmer Flores (until David Wright is healthy)

2014 Predictions:

Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud
First Base: Ike Davis
Second Base: Daniel Murphy
Shortstop: Free Agent Signing
Third Base: David Wright

Long-Term Future Predictions (by 2016 or 2017):

Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud
First Base: Dominic Smith
Second Base: Daniel Murphy
Shortstop: Gavin Cecchini
Third Base: David Wright

To summarize, it looks like third base is set for years with Wright leading the way. Catcher is all but set with d'Arnaud now having inherited the position. Second base could very likely belong to Daniel Murphy for a long time unless the Mets decide to go in a different direction. First base is a logjam and will require possibly two offseason trades to really sort out. Shortstop is the biggest question mark because neither Ruben Tejada or Omar Quintanilla are particularly fit to be an everyday shortstop.

For more on this topic, please visit the following link:

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1756194-the-state-of-the-mets-part-1-infield-hits-and-misses

And for more on my work on Bleacher Report, please visit this link:

http://bleacherreport.com/users/472220-shale-briskin

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