So Ike’s back, if you didn’t know (and how did you not?). And he had a pretty good game, going 3-5 with a walk and 2 RBI. He struck out on a low pitch (PitchFX called it a strike). This creates a bit of a logjam at first base, especially should he perform, with Josh Satin and Lucas Duda both vying for (and largely justifying) playing time. Terry Collins said yesterday that he’s going to find playing time for Satin, who has a 189 wRC+ in 18 games at first base. Satin will be considered for outfield duty, much in the way of Lucas Duda after his eye-opening rookie campaign in 2011 (136 wRC+ in 100 games). Satin, who has virtually no outfield experience in his professional career, will reasonably expect to play at first against tougher lefties and find spot duty in the outfield.
But there’s a problem – the outfield is actually hitting.
The Mets’ current outfield, composed primarily of Eric Young, Jr., Juan Lagares, and Marlon Byrd have all been justifying regular playing time. Byrd has hit .273/.321/.517 since May 1st, and was robbed of his 13th home run last night. Young has posted a .367 OBP as a Met, and that and his speed have given the team a dynamic presence at the top of the lineup, and Lagares has coupled phenomenal defense with a passable .675 OPS since taking over regular center field duty early last month.
But then there’s Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who reached base six times last night, becoming the first Met to do so in a 9-inning game since Mike Piazza in 2000, and has been swinging the bat very well of late. Since being recalled from AAA Las Vegas, Kirk has hit .273/.353/.477 (admittedly, largely fueled by last night’s game) in 51 plate appearances. And there’s Andrew Brown, himself possessing a 131 wRC+ in limited playing time this season (he’s hitting .300/.333/.600 since being recalled on June 20th) and struggling to find playing time.
In terms of the 25-man roster itself, it seems evident that Jordany Valdespin‘s job is secure only until Justin Turner returns, at which point his ability to play backup-caliber shortstop will no longer be needed. Ruben Tejada‘s eventual return will likely come at the expense of fan favorite Omar Quintanilla who has played solid (and at times, spectacular) defense and has held his own with the bat. He’s currently heating back up, having posted an .805 OPS over the past week. Since his last homer, in the first inning against the Cardinals on June 11th, he’s only hit .202/.289/.262 so a productive Tejada could provide comparable defense and an upgrade offensively in the eighth spot in the lineup. Lucas Duda’s return could be more interesting. It would likely be paired with Andrew Brown’s return to AAA, but it would be hard to justify his poor defense despite the 123 wRC+ he’s posted this year.
However, part of what can (and very possibly would) be done to solve some of this is to move Marlon Byrd as the deadline approaches. Byrd, at age 35, is very unlikely to be a part of the Mets’ future. It’s also not likely that he will fetch a Zack Wheeler on the market, but his ability to hit for power and play solid right-field defense will make him marketable, putting Sandy Alderson in a position he’s excelled in in the past (see: Beltran, Dickey, Cowgill, McHugh). Doing so would give the Mets an extra slot to play their outfielders and get more regular playing time for both Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Andrew Brown.
Similarly, with rumors swirling about Daniel Murphy‘s potential tradeability, it’s worth noting Young’s ability to play second base. Young certainly isn’t a candidate for “second baseman of the future”, especially as 21-year-old PCL All-Star Wilmer Flores will be handed the spot should Murphy be moved. However, that versatility should make Young a safe bet for the 2014 team, occupying the role the organization has hoped Valdespin could take. In the meantime, however, it offers Terry Collins an extra lineup space if Murphy should struggle.
In a season meant to be an audition for “the future” – a year in which Sandy Alderson can find evidence to help decide who can and can’t contribute to a soon-to-be-contending team – the Mets find themselves in an interesting (and fortunate) situation. They have a glut of productive corner outfielders and first basemen, from which 2 or 3 will likely be on the roster next season in important roles. And though some juggling will need to be done, these players will receive their proper auditions. And beyond that, it means that Collins will have the flexibility to bench struggling players and find ways to ride the hot hands.