Baseball’s Winter Meetings begin December 7th in San Diego. So far this off-season, the Mets have signed Michael Cuddyer, and engaged in typical verbal bravado for consumption by other teams, the media, and fans. Statements about their comfort with Wilmer Flores at shortstop, their reluctance to trade pitching, and the thinness of the market of available acquisitions have flowed like the tides at Mission Beach.
Jun 14, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson (left) talks with chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon before the start of a game against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
However, Sandy Alderson is aware that his team is on the precipice of contending, after six long and uncomfortable seasons of finishing below .500. He knows that his team needs an upgrade at shortstop, and a bullpen piece or two. The question remains as to whether or not Alderson and his lieutenants are willing to pull the necessary financial or player triggers to bring in the missing parts of the puzzle.
The Mets can talk all they wish about Flores’ ability to assume the shortstop role in 2015. However, the fact remains that Flores was drafted as a shortstop, and was moved off the position in the minor leagues due to concerns about his defense. He was moved back to shortstop because the Mets were unhappy with Ruben Tejada, and were seeking an immediate, internal option. It’s hard to fathom that Flores’ move back to shortstop was in any way intended to be permanent.
Some point to projections for the 2015 season as a reason to give Flores a shot. If you believe in projections, then perhaps there’s something to that. Flores is anticipated to have an fWAR of 1.9 in 2015 (which classifies him as a borderline role player/starter). One player the Mets are rumored to be interested in is Starlin Castro, who is projected to have an fWAR of 2.1. So one may ask why the Mets would sacrifice anything for such a small upgrade.
Castro is a 3-time All Star. He has a .284 average over 5 seasons, along with 51 home runs and 70 stolen bases. Statistically, his defense is considered slightly below average. Flores has hit .240 over 354 official at-bats. He is not a stolen base threat, and also projects as a below average fielder. Castro will be 25 years old next season, Flores will be 24 (in August).
I find it hard to believe that the 2015 difference in production between Castro and Flores will be as small as their WARs suggest. But the real question is whether the Mets are willing to part with the players required to upgrade shortstop. Whether the upgrade is Castro or some other player, are the Mets going to “monitor the market” again (a term I still don’t fully understand), or make a move to get over the top? I’m not suggesting parting with Jacob deGrom or Zack Wheeler. But Alderson no longer has the “wait and see” luxury. The window seems to be open now. It’s up to him and his staff to find and make the right deal.
Another position that should be on Alderson’s mind as he heads for the nation’s best climate is that of left-handed reliever. Josh Edgin cannot carry the left-handed load alone. Dana Eveland may return, but the Mets may want to look at free-agent Craig Breslow. Breslow is coming off a bad season (5.96 ERA). Left-handed hitters hit .291 off Breslow last year. However, over his career, Breslow has held lefties to a .235 average against him (191.1 innings). On a short-term deal (until Jack Leathersich is ready), Breslow can add a veteran presence to an otherwise youthful bullpen.
Alderson’s first Winter Meetings as Mets’ G.M. came in 2010. From then until now, it’s been about trying to put a respectable product on the field while re-tooling for the future. The future, defined by the shedding/expiration of heavy contracts and having key players healthy, is now. Alderson has shown an ability to re-stock prospects. Can he make the key deal to bring the major-league team into the post season? Can he find the Donn Clendenon, Gary Carter, or Bob Ojeda trade?
There’s an old adage that you have to give up something to get something. It’s fine to be cautious. However, inactivity is no longer an option. The beaches and perfect weather of San Diego await the Mets. The 2015 season does as well. Success in California in December will have a profound impact on success in New York in October.