Mets manager takes hard line with Wilmer Flores

Mar 18, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; New York Mets first baseman Wilmer Flores (4) puts the ball in play against the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 18, 2017; Jupiter, FL, USA; New York Mets first baseman Wilmer Flores (4) puts the ball in play against the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. The Mets defeated the Cardinals 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports /

If you were hoping to see more of Wilmer Flores this season, you might be disappointed.

The season hasn’t even started yet, and it already sounds as if the Mets oft-maligned infielder’s relationship with Terry Collins has reached its newest low point.

While enjoying some rare Grapefruit playing time Friday against the Cardinals, Wilmer doubled to deep center in the first inning, then hit what I’m sure was a personally uplifting grand slam home run off Adam Wainwright in the second. His performance was particularly noteworthy because Wainwright is a right-hander, against which Flores struggles.

Wilmer’s only mistake of the day came post-game, when he decided to politely speak his mind. By no means did Wilmer denounce his present situation or speak out of line. All he did was answer questions in a genuine thoughtful manner. But he did speak with a degree of confidence seldom heard out loud. And did rather matter-of-fact express a clear level of dismay over what he knows will be a very limited role this season playing against left-handed starting pitchers.

Enter Terry Collins, rushing to douse Wilmer’s internal fire. Newsday’s Marc Carig quotes the Mets skipper after the game saying,

"“The one thing about his situation is you don’t have to like it; you’ve got to accept it and be ready to play.”"

I get a sense from Terry’s tone he is souring on Wilmer Flores. That’s just a gut feeling. I find this somewhat reminiscent of TC’s latter-day treatment of Ruben Tejada. As Tejada and Flores each encountered respective fitness and endurance issues, each began seeing a very different side of Terry Collins. My biased ears heard TC saying, okay Wilmer, you won your arbitration case, now quit your whining and know your role.

In any event, those are pretty tough words coming from Terry.  If only he were that tough with Matt Harvey.

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But I digress…

The real issue at hand is Wilmer’s baseball ability versus the abilities of others.

For a moment there, Flores was becoming the forgotten man of Spring Training. One must get through Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Reyes, and perhaps even T.J. Rivera (and even the occasional Kelly Johnson acquisition), before reading the name Wilmer Flores on any infield depth chart. In the mean time, prospects Gavin Cecchini and Amed Rosario are fast ascending the list of more desirable options.

And so Wilmer’s level of frustration both personally and professionally is understandable. In a purely Mets point of view, all this competition and infield depth is a very good problem to have. For Wilmer, however, the rising level of infield talent now surrounding him puts his Mets career at a crossroads.

In his defense, Wilmer has been utilized as a jack of all trades ever since his 2013 rookie season, but clearly remains a master of none. One must keep in mind, though, how the team’s dire circumstances largely dictated his role throughout his near 350 game career with the Mets. Therefore Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson should be held accountable for some of Wilmer’s lack of development at any one position.

Otherwise, there’s no escaping Wilmer’s infield deficiencies. He has always been described as someone who’ll field everything hit within his vicinity, but little else. He simply lacks the footwork and range for the position. We’ve seen him play exactly 162 games at short as a Met, and know this to be true.

It’s believed second base is his best position. His .990 fielding average over 76 career games would back that up. Comparatively, he owns a .969 FA at short, and a .952 FA over 78 career games at third. However, after watching him play second we know his fielding average does not necessarily paint an accurate picture. He still suffers the same lack of range, and executes the pivot play with great difficulty.

The hot corner is another matter. I believe Wilmer Flores can still one day become a full time third baseman, and a legitimate slugging threat. If not for the Mets, then somewhere else.

On this much I agree with Wilmer Flores: consistent playing time is the key.

Wilmer’s first experience with extended major league playing time came in 2015, when he slashed .263/.295/.408, with 16 home runs and 59 RBI through 137 games and 483 at bats.

He got off to a dreadful start last season, and landed on the disabled list after taking a pitch on the hand in mid May. He returned to action on May 29 a new man. For the next 84 games, Flores batted .284 with 12 doubles, 15 home runs, and 47 RBI in just 257 at bats (176 at bats less than all of 2015).

Unfortunately, continuing pain in Wilmer’s wrist forced a premature end to his season after a September 10 game in Atlanta.

There is a day when I believe Wilmer can be a .280/.330/.503 slasher, with 22 home runs and about 80 or so RBI. He is only 25-years old and I still feel his better days lay ahead. But he needs a team and manager willing to give him a legitimate opportunity to play full time.

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The question is no longer where do we go from here. Terry Collins already decided that.  He browbeat Wilmer Flores after verbalizing self-confidence in his ability to be a full time contributor. I find that odd as all hell, considering TC has been around baseball long enough to know it takes a 40-man roster to win championships.

But I know what the old man is really doing … he doesn’t fool me.

The next move is Wilmer’s.