Last week's trade with Toronto renewed my faith in the Alderson FO as well as in the long-term plan for this organization. Admittedly, I was beginning to wonder just how long the rebuilding was going to take...or if it was going to really happen at all. However, Sandy was able to (yet again) maximize the return for one of his more valuable assets and in the process address a glaring organizational need. He also added another power arm to the stable of power arms that has been building in recent years.
In d'Arnaud, Alderson not only brought in the best catching prospect (and possibly best position prospect) in baseball he also brought in one of the few players I thought the Mets had to target. Travis is already considered a solid backstop who works well with pitchers and he's really come into his own as a hitter. Some critics are quick to dismiss his performance and point out that the PCL is a notorious hitter's league, however his performance at AA in 2011 was equally impressive and shows that his power potential is for real. He's a complete player and can be a franchise cornerstone for years to come.
As talented and valuable as d'Arnaud is, the Mets are going to need to add more talent to their core in order to truly have a championship-caliber lineup. I've seen various writers and bloggers talking about a future 3-4-5 of Wright-Davis-d'Arnaud but I think this is both premature and a mistake. While Wright has firmly entrenched himself as the #3 hitter of today and tomorrow, I think it's in the Mets' best interests to add a clean-up hitter and shift Davis and d'Arnaud down in the lineup. As much as I like Davis' power potential (35+ HR are realistic) I think he is too flawed as an overall hitter to bat 4th and think he would be most valuable from the 5th spot. As for d'Arnaud, his minor league numbers seem to indicate he'll be able to hit close to .300 with 20-25 HR, however he hasn't had close to 500 ABs since 2009. Prior success stories (Piazza, Posey, Carter, Bench, etc.) I have serious reservations about batting a catcher any higher in than order than #6. The potential for injury is too great at that position and the Mets could find themselves in a position where they are missing one of their key run producers for long and/or important stretches. Also, I think the Mets can maximize the advantage of having an offense catcher by treating that advantage as a luxury. Most other teams will be fielding catchers that couldn't hit water from a boat and getting real production from more traditional positions (corner OF and IF). The Mets will be in a position where they can get offense from BOTH and they should look to do it.
The Mets should be looking to add another young hitter to add to their new core trio and turn it into a quartet. The profile I'd target is a corner OF as the corner IF positions are obviously locked up by Wright and Davis. This corner OF should also be a RH hitter. If Davis is going to slide down to 5th, I would want to avoid hitting LH's back-to-back in the lineup. While it has worked at times in the past (ex. 2008 Phillies), I would stay away from doing that as much as possible.
So, I'm looking for a young(ish) power-hitting RH corner OF who can bat clean-up in between Wright and Davis. Obviously this player has to be obtainable. The first choice (by a mile) among current major league hitters is Giancarlo Stanton. However, Stanton may or may not be available and if he is, the Mets could not meet the asking price right now (more on this later). Other interesting but flawed options might be Justin Upton (might cost too much in trade right now), Mark Trumbo (one-dimensional), and Hunter Pence (free agent next year but may not be a true cleanup hitter). While I don't really love any of these solutions, they could adequately fill this need.
Given the current state of MLB OF right now, I'd next take a long look at the minor leagues to see if there are any players who fit the profile and might be available. The first obvious choice would have been Wil Myers but he is not going to be playing any games for the Mets any time soon after being acquired by the Rays. Other highly-touted players like Bubba Starling and Albert Almora have exciting talent, however right now they may be too far away (2016) to be a core part of the team being assembled. A power-hitting 3B like Nick Castellanos could fit the bill by shifting to the OF, but he is the Tigers' top positional prospect and I don't think the Mets could pry him away. It would be worth a shot but it is highly unlikely. Similarly, Texas' Mike Olt has the power to hit cleanup and could be a passable defensive RF or even be a decent LF, however the Mets were reportedly lukewarm on him and it looks like he might be better-suited hitting farther down in the lineup. After sifting through minor league OFers who could play for the Mets, I think the best fit might be Houston's George Springer.
Springer is an athletic outfielder with a strong arm. He can play CF but scouting reports have him eventually moving over and playing a very good RF. He brings an exciting power/speed combination to the table and could even be a 30/30 threat. Springer played a few weeks in AA last year and should be in the majors starting in 2014. Interestingly, Springer is a player that the Mets had interest in drafting in 2011. Reportedly, JP Ricciardi was personally scouting Springer in Connecticut prior to the draft and the plan was to draft Springer first and Nimmo second. When Springer went off the board two spots before the Mets to the Astros, the organization decided to grab the other player they wanted early and not risk losing him as well. As most baseball executives seem to have "their guys" that they always like, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that Springer is someone the Mets would still have interest in bringing him over to NY.
Is Springer available? Tough to say. While he is a highly-regarded prospect in Houston and in all of baseball, he's still only their #3 prospect and the team is in the middle of a long and painful rebuilding process. I could see a prospect-for-prospect trade happening with the Mets sending multiple lesser prospects to the Astros for Springer and filler. Maybe Flores, Tapia, and den Dekker to Houston for Springer +.
Acquiring Springer could solve two problems at the same time. The first solution would be as the cleanup hitter and solid defensive RF for the next 'new' Mets. A future 3-4-5-6 core of Wright-Springer-Davis-d'Arnaud could be together for a very long time, be reasonably priced, and produce 100+ HR annually. The second solution would be for Springer to serve as a centerpiece for a potential Giancarlo Stanton trade next offseason (I told you we'd come back to him). While Springer is a top talent in his own right, Stanton is a potential generational talent who is already an established major league slugger who could step in to the cleanup spot between Wright and Davis immediately. He would change the entire dynamic of the lineup and provide hitting protection for Wright that he has never enjoyed in his career.
As I mentioned above, the Mets would not be able to compete in the trade marketplace right now for Stanton should he become available. I have the feeling that while the Mets will be better next year than they are not getting credit for at the moment (Sandy is obviously not finished), they are going to ultimately fall short of the playoffs and they know this. I could easily see the Mets moving a piece or two (Santana if he's healthy? Parnell?) for prospects at the deadline, possibly pulling in a surprise gem.
If they trade for Springer now and another top prospect this summer, that's two more young talents to add to a deepening farm and increase the Mets' pool of tradable assets. A trade offering of Springer/PROSPECT/Nimmo/Fulmer might be enough to persuade the Marlins to send Stanton north. While this would ultimately mean the Mets would be dealing Flores/Tapia/den Dekker/Santana/Nimmo/Fulmer for Stanton, I think it would be worth it. Santana will not be here next year, Flores is blocked by Wright, den Dekker and Nimmo won't be near the player Stanton is and the Mets have a plethora of young pitching now.
If the Mets trade for Springer and additional talent at the deadline, it wouldn't be all for nothing should they not be able to acquire Stanton next winter. It would benefit to broaden their base of minor league talent, especially in current areas of need. Keep in mind, I'm not advocating the Mets trade for Springer specifically to flip for Stanton. That would be foolish as Stanton might be traded well before next offseason and not be available. However, dealing for Springer now would give the Mets flexibility they don't currently have. He could adequately fill the need for a long-term solution in the OF and lineup himself or serve as part of a package that gives the Mets a playoff-caliber lineup as early as 2014.