Unfortunately, news came out Friday morning that David Wright–the team’s captain and near-folk hero–will miss significant time with a herniated disc in his neck. While Wright dealing with serious injury shouldn’t be a surprise, this isn’t what anyone expected, I think.
David Wright’s injury will require 6-8 weeks of rest from baseball activities during which he will undergo appropriate physiotherapy. #Mets
— New York Mets (@Mets) June 3, 2016
Instead of his spinal stenosis directly causing injury, it’s another part of his spinal column that seems to be holding him out. But while this isn’t the most unexpected turn of events, it still is devastating to a Mets lineup already missing Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud. In many ways, the Mets’ offensive roster looks similar to what the team rolled out last season, just with Yoenis Cespedes replacing Duda’s offensive contributions and Michael Conforto standing in for the mess that was left field. It’s an upgrade, but with some combo of James Loney, Wilmer Flores, and Ty Kelly standing in at the corners, it’s not a particularly scary lineup.
Although his late-2015 and early-2016 performances caused much joy in Panic City, it appears that it may be time for the Mets to start taking a long-term look at third base. As part of our Monday staff post, you’ll see what some of our writers predict for the second half of the season, but I’d like to quickly hash through some of the internal and external options for the team, and how this squad could best address the hole that’s been created.
I don’t think the Mets want to leverage Ty Kelly or Eric Campbell as the team’s everyday third baseman, and for good reason. Neither of these players have been exceptional hitters even in the PCL, and neither non-prospect projects as an effective big-league hitter or especially savvy defensively. Both are PECOTA-projected for about a .264 True Average for the rest of the season, but neither has hit well at the big league level, nor project to be an average defender at third base. Soup has gotten plenty of chances over the last couple of seasons, and he’s probably out of luck. Kelly may still have a chance to establish himself, but the team likely would prefer a stronger overall option.
Wilmer Flores is probably the immediate replacement, and he only barely tops the other two in terms of MLB performance and defensive ability. With a .260 projected TAv by PECOTA, he may not be an offensive upgrade over those previous two according to the projections, but in 2015 he actually hit that well over a full season. Sure, his OBP is a mess and he could use a platoon partner, but he hit 16 homers in 510 PA and didn’t embarrass himself at shortstop.
The other option I hear bandied about by armchair GMs is a pair of moves: move Neil Walker to third base and let prospect-but-not-technically-a-prospect Dilson Herrera get started at second base. Herrera has a lot of potential and solid defensive chops, while Walker would be a fine fit at third defensively. But the problem here is that sometimes moving a player creates more problems than it solves, and Herrera hasn’t completely covered himself in glory during his MLB stints. Right now he’s hitting for more power than ever in Las Vegas … but it’s Las Vegas. If you buy Las Vegas offensive stats, then you’re probably just fine rolling with Ty Kelly because he’d be due to hit .300 or something based on his MiLB numbers in that park. Though Herrera’s PECOTA-projected TAv is in the ballpark of the team’s other options–it’s .257–and his defense projects to be plus at the keystone, there’s an argument that he still needs another few months of work in the minors.
Honestly, I really like this idea, and think Herrera could get his shot sooner rather than later, but uprooting one of the team’s most productive players and asking him to take on a new position may cause it’s own set of problems. There are simpler solutions in the interim.
I don’t want to break down every available third baseman in the league, but suffice to say names have been thrown around. Today on MLB Central, the hosts seemed to advocate for Evan Longoria as a replacement in part because of his alpha-dog, leadership-role nature … that’s great and all, but hardly a necessity for this Mets team. I like Longo, but his price tag is likely to be too high given his role as the face of the Rays for so long … not to mention his actual price tag in terms of both years and dollars. He’s regressed to an average third baseman, while likely costing the team more money and prospects than an average third baseman should cost.
Other names include Trevor Plouffe of the Twins, Danny Valencia of the Athletics, Luis Valbuena of the Astros, Yangervis Solarte or Brett Wallace of the Padres, Kelly Johnson of the Braves … there are a lot of options out there. The trick is finding an option that appeals to a team without tons of money to spend, without a lot of prospect capital, and looking to win now. Valencia and Plouffe could cost too much for the Mets’ comfort, while guys like Wallace and Solarte might not even be better options than the players already in the mix in NY. Personally, Valbuena’s my guy here … he might be the right mix of guy and cost for this team, and he’s got a little bit of flexibility if needed. (Another appealing option from my vantage point is Tommy LaStella of the Cubs, but I’m not sure that team wants to mess with anything they’ve got going right now.)
Regardless, there are lots of choices that the Mets could make. The one thing I’d advocate is this: whatever decision the team is going to make, make it soon. Trading for a player later in the season is all well and good, but the road to the playoffs may be a bit bumpier even than it was last season. There are question marks in the rotation–though not the ones the team expected–the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders, and wins today mean just as much as wins down the stretch. Now that the team knows that Wright will miss much of the season, it’s the right time to experiment just a little, then make a strong decision. No one can replace David Wright, but with a little luck or creativity, perhaps the team can come close to matching his production.
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