Break up the Las Vegas 51s. No, really, break them up. In the minor leagues, when players start to dominate, it signals the time to up their competition.
Brandon Allen, 28, is an 11 year minor league veteran, who also played some in Japan. He was signed last November after the San Diego Padres granted him free agency (just as the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers had done previously). On Sunday, he hit his first home run for the 51s to help stake Las Vegas to a temporary 2-1 lead over the Tacoma Rainiers, during the first game of a double-header. (The first game was delayed by rain in the 7th inning with Las Vegas ahead 7-5, and later postponed).
Sep 17, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets third baseman Wilmer Flores (4) hits an RBI double against the San Francisco Giants during the fourth inning of a game at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
He is a left fielder/first baseman by trade, which, between Las Vegas and the Mets, are two positions presently suffering from a combined log jam. In the outfield alone, he figures behind fellow lefty Matt den Dekker, then Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Cesar Puello, and Andrew Brown. At first base, he figures behind fellow lefty Allan Dykstra, then Eric Campbell, and even behind the transient experiment with Wilmer Flores.
With regards to relationships between parent clubs and their affiliates, there are both, a local team’s best interests, as well as organizational interests to be met. Therefore, I say plainly, Brandon Allen’s roster spot could be better served by someone with a more viable future, unless other players are cleared out first.
There’s the rub. This really isn’t about Brandon Allen.
Circling back to Wilmer Flores, Friday’s big night at the plate (4 for 5, 2 home runs) came with him back at shortstop. He played shortstop again in Sunday’s game, marking his 22nd game at the position this season.
Although he has 19 minor league starts at first base, and was recently placed there again while recovering from a jammed finger, he is not likely to return. Attempting to convert Wilmer Flores into a first baseman was indeed considered at one point, but, to continue would require a blind eye, and lack of consideration for Allan Dykstra’s productivity in his first season playing Triple-A ball, which also brings me back to Brandon Allen and why he started first base again on Sunday. I digress.
Outside of perhaps becoming an more accomplished middle infielder, Wilmer Flores has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level. He already excelled over a full season for Las Vegas last year, when he placed 6th in the Pacific Coast League with an .887 OPS, 4th with 86 RBI, and 3rd with both a .531 slugging average and 36 doubles. He additionally ranked 6th with a .321 batting average, but only posted a corresponding .357 OBP (36th in the PCL).
If his performance over the weekend was any indication, then it’s truly time to get him out of the PCL. So far this season, he is off to another solid start and surging. On Sunday, he cranked yet another home run – a three run blow. It was his third of the series against the Rainiers, in Tacoma (and not at popularly criticized Cashman Field in Las Vegas).
The New York Mets are clearly getting sub-par production from Ruben Tejada, and prior to the start of the season, the club was already displeased with him for quite some time. Off campus, like the other 29 MLB teams, the Mets do not seem interested in signing Scott Boras client Stephen Drew. Nor have the Mets openly inquired about Seattle Mariners/Tacoma Rainiers shortstop prospect Nick Franklin. The rumor mill has additionally been quiet.
In the absence of another plan, Wilmer Flores can certainly play a fair shortstop, or do little worse than Ruben Tejada. The Mets also seem sure to benefit from Wilmer’s bat in the lineup over Tejada’s.
If it’s his defense that gives you anxiety, in 2,867 total chances at 2B/SS and a smattering of games at first, Wilmer has committed 109 errors, for a minor league career .962% FA. In 4+ seasons for the Mets, Ruben Tejada owns a .971% FA. The disparity may be wide for some, and negligible for others, but, even that should not dissuade Sandy Alderson from promoting Wilmer, giving him the shortstop job, and finally being done with this lingering situation. If it’s Wilmer’s supposed lack of range you fear, then I have no defense, but would still suggest his positives outweigh this negative.
This is also about the organization acting decisively, as in, nothing ventured, nothing gained. That’s my opinion. Sandy Alderson can revisit the situation this July at the deadline, or next spring if needed. But, so far, he has addressed the matter rather inadequately.
A side note on Daniel Murphy – he will be eligible for free agency in 2016, which means the Mets should start contemplating their intentions. If they have any inclination towards trading Murphy (and his .975 % FA) then I say do it relatively soon, as in this year’s trade deadline, and give the second base job to Wilmer Flores. I admit however, that is a more speculative and precarious situation to ponder.
Therefore, before doing anything hasty, the club must once and for all, decide why they should let Ruben Tejada continue to under-perform versus handing shortstop over to Wilmer Flores. In the Mets present condition, a .009% defensive differential (between Tejada and Flores) is an awfully small hook to hang a cap on.
Zach Lutz is another with little else to prove at the Triple-A level. He is in the midst of his 5th partial, or full season in Triple-A. Last season he posted a quadruple slash of .293/.444/.520/.964, with 27 doubles, 13 home runs and 80 RBI. This season, in 100 at-bats prior to Sunday, Lutz owned a quadruple slash of .310/.444/.520/.964, with 4 home runs and 21 RBI.
Both Zach Lutz’ and Wilmer Flores’ careers are now standing still in a manner of speaking. There is nowhere else for them to go but up, or, be sent to another organization for a more conducive situation. The trade deadline is obviously still two months away, but it’s never too early to form a proactive plan for these, and a few other players of potential interest, like Eric Campbell, a pick of outfielders, and even Allan Dykstra, who presently poses the largest viable threat to Lucas Duda‘s hold on first base.
Once again, proactive is the word of the day. Short term, the Mets need to rectify their Ruben Tejada/shortstop situation, and fortify the bullpen. Of course, this is an open conversation, where I’m merely inventorying only some of the pieces at Sandy Alderson’s disposal. That said, when combined with one of the organizations higher end pitchers, and/or someone from the MLB roster, then we’re talking a trade of real impact. And, as Mets fans, we know the best trades have been the ones we never saw coming.
We know with certainty that Noah Syndergaard will not touch down in Flushing before June expires. But, I question whether the Mets are really serious about promoting Syndergaard at all this season. That remains to be seen. Logan Verrett and Jeff Walters should definitely get used to Las Vegas though. They need a full season. In 2014, Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom are most likely to enjoy a large bite of the Big Apple.
The New York Mets are already exploring the idea of incorporating starting pitchers Rafael Montero and Jacob deGrom into the Las Vegas bullpen, for possible future integration into the Mets bullpen. I am not opposed to the idea, rather, I am on the fence about it. I do understand the St. Louis Cardinals employ this strategy with great success. To that I’d offer perhaps the Cardinals have better people implementing their plan.
Pitching coach Dan Warthen fails to impress me, so I’m naturally skeptical of the Mets attempting their version, especially after the unsuccessful experiment with Jenrry Mejia. Be that as it may, I see no sense in letting Rafael Montero (like Wilmer Flores) continue dominating the PCL any longer. He must start facing MLB hitters soon, be it in the rotation, or the bullpen. Unlike Montero, I’m more agreeable to having deGrom in the bullpen.
If reliever Vic Black can just gain slightly better control, he might also be on the verge of rejoining the Mets bullpen. In 10.1 innings pitch since retuning from a pinched condition in his neck, he has allowed just one earned run on 6 hits, struck out 11, and owns an 0.87 ERA, but has issued 10 bases on balls which is too many.
Lastly, for as long as Terry Collins continues making very curious decisions, more so this season than in previous years, Wally Backman will continue being the 800 pound gorilla in Las Vegas. It’s highly unlikely Backman would be shifted to Flushing in the event Sandy Alderson executes a mid-season firing. Someone else would serve in an interim basis. But, next season could finally open up an opportunity for Wally, who is a clear long time fan favorite, and also someone who has a nose for winning baseball games.