New York Mets News

To contend, Mets need to upgrade shortstop and closer

By Danny Abriano

The Mets are 8-7 after the first 15 games of their season-opening 22 game gauntlet. Although the club ranks near the bottom of the league in average and on base percentage, that figures to improve – unless you feel that both Curtis Granderson and Travis d’Arnaud (who have been incredibly unlucky on batting average on balls in play) are sub-200 hitters.

Apr 8, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada (11) hits an RBI single in the eighth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The starting pitching has been a strength – regardless of Bartolo Colon‘s one awful start – and the bullpen has held its own since the ugliness that was the first three games of the season.

There were many who thought the 2014 Mets were doomed to a win total in the low or mid 70s. I’m not one of those people.

The 2014 Mets, with or without Matt Harvey, always profiled as a club that would have a strong starting rotation (with more high upside arms on the way in Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard). The bullpen, as it is with most teams, profiled as one that would  be hit-and-miss and interchanged over the course of the season (but one that should improve as young arms in Triple-A are deemed ready). The offense has enough solid bats to keep the team afloat.

However, in order to truly turn the corner and potentially contend for a playoff spot in 2014, the Mets need upgrades at both shortstop and closer.

The Mets circled shortstop as an area they needed to improve prior to the season, but found themselves heading into the campaign with the same two shortstops they had in 2013: Ruben Tejada as the starter and Omar Quintanilla as the backup.

So far in 2014 – albeit in a small sample size – Ruben Tejada has continued to disappoint. He has a triple slash of .186/.286/.209, has ended a handful of his at-bats by taking third strikes that cut the heart of the plate, and looks as range-challenged in the field as he has over the last year and change.

Simply put, the current incarnation of Ruben Tejada doesn’t do anything on either side of the ball at a level that’s even average.

To replace Tejada, the Mets can use their surplus of starting pitching to deal for an upgrade (perhaps a defensive-oriented one in Didi Gregorious of Arizona or an offensive-oriented one in Nick Franklin of Seattle), or they can sign Stephen Drew, who is still available via free agency.

The closer situation may be easier to fix.

The Mets were dealt a tough break when Bobby Parnell was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery after the first game of the season. Jose Valverde took over the role and was solid for a few games, but has since turned back into the pitcher who was demoted by the Tigers in 2013.

After Wednesday’s victory that came despite an awful appearance by Valverde, Mets manager Terry Collins said that Valverde is still his closer. At this point, that’s pretty much what Collins has to say – but that shouldn’t remain the case for long.

Mets representatives are attending a showcase for free agent reliever Joel Hanrahan on Thursday. Hanrahan, 32, had Tommy John surgery last May and is nearing a return. If the Mets sign Hanrahan, he can slot in as the closer – perhaps as soon as early or mid-May.

If the Mets feel Hanrahan isn’t the answer, they can look internally. Whatever they do, Valverde needs to be replaced.

At 8-7 and nearing the end of their tough early schedule, the Mets have the potential to make the 2014 season an interesting one. The chances of that happening will be improved dramatically if they make upgrades at shortstop and closer – two areas of need.

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