With 25% of the off-season budget already spent on former Oakland A and former Arizona Diamondback Chris Young, the Mets have their work cut out for them to fill the other outfield vacancy while simultaneously looking to upgrade at shortstop. To pull off these feat will take some creativity on the front office’s part (a trait they’ve not yet demonstrated being able to do with trade acquisitions in the current regime bringing in luminaries like Collin Cowgill. At the major league level their biggest acquisition to date is probably Eric Young, a guy who can run but do little else and was being unceremoniously dumped by the Rockies but wound up getting swapped for another Collin (McHugh) facing a similar fate in Queens.
With Jhonny Peralta already gone to St. Louis and Stephen Drew too rich for the Wilpons’ collective digestive system, that leaves the trade route if they are seeking to improve at that position. Yes, there are a few free agents out there who were once good in a past life such as Rafael Furcal, or Japanese import Munenori Kawasaki who is a career .294 hitter who’s stolen as many as 44 in a season but who has not yet shown anything in the USA (shades of Kaz Matsui). Someone suggested returning Omar Infante to his original position at SS. Or you could simply do nothing and hope for another empty .280 average from Ruben Tejada.
Assuming the crown jewels of the position like Troy Tulowitski and Hanley Ramirez are off the table for reasons of salary and need by the current employers, how then can the Mets front office find a pearl hidden among a sea of overpriced oysters?
Talk to the division rival Washington Nationals about their erstwhile 2nd baseman Danny Espinosa who has completely fallen out of favor due to decreased production directly attributable to injuries to his shoulder and then a broken bone in his wrist. It got so bad for the 26 year old Espinosa that when they moved uber-prospect Anthony Rendon to his former home at 2B, they did to him what the Mets did to Tejada – refusing to promote him to the big club in September to stave off his Super Two status from kicking in. Espinosa came up as a shortstop and has slugged over 17 and 20 HRs in his first two seasons in the big leagues, yet he’s become the forgotten man in Washington as a result of some health problems. He finished his AAA season on a 14/22 tear and should not necessarily cost a fortune in terms of talent to acquire.
Speedster Dee Gordon of the Los Angeles Dodgers is another player with nowhere to ply his trade with Hanley Ramirez firmly entrenched at shortstop. Speed is the name of his game. In 669 big league plate appearance he has 66 stolen bases. The problem with trading with LA is that they’re so loaded at nearly every position that they aren’t in need of very much (except, perhaps, salary relief). If you want to expand the deal then talk to them about Joc Pederson who has no place to play in the 4-man outfield of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford. I’d even entertain Ethier if the Dodgers were willing to eat 50% or more of his salary. His contract is horrific with an average annual salary of nearly $18 million per year through the year 2017 (including a buyout of his 2018 season). Ugh!
Now that Peralta cashed in on better living through chemistry, it’s unlikely the San Diego Padres feel any shame in hanging onto Everth Cabrera, another speed burner. However, if you catch them on a particularly sanctimonious day then dangling Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and some minor league pitching might make them consider it. Yonder Alonso can move to the outfield where none of the regulars are making the All-Star team anytime soon.
Three teams come to mind with an embarrassment of riches at the shortstop position. The Tampa Bay Rays have both Yunel Escobar ($5 million per season through 2015) and Ben Zobrist ($7.5 million per season). Both would represent a huge upgrade for the Mets. They need someone to replace James Loney.
The Oakland A’s have Jed Lowrie coming off a terrific season and they may just want to sell high on him since they have Hiroyuki Nakajima in AAA. They also just signed utilityman Nick Punto so it’s entirely possible one of them may be up for grabs. Their highest priced player is Yoenis Cespedes who is slated to earn $10.5 million per season for the next two years. It’s possible to approach them about one of their shortstops plus Cespedes for Ike Davis and some strong pitching prospects like Rafael Montero. That would solve two problems for the Mets.
The Arizona Diamondbacks similarly have a surplus of riches on the left side of the diamond. Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings are both natural shortstops who have power and speed. Owings numbers are actually better than Gregorius’ but he came with the higher accolades from the minors. Currently they have one of the weakest outfields in baseball and obtaining Daniel Murphy would enable them to replace one of the light hitters with incumbent third baseman Martin Prado who has played plenty of outfield in his career.
J.J. Hardy is in the last year of his deal with the Orioles who could use a major upgrade at 2B and one at DH. Ike Davis could slide over to 1B with Chris Davis taking over the DH role. Daniel Murphy could play 2B. They could then slide Manny Machado over to his natural position of SS. If they didn’t want Ike Davis, then Wilmer Flores could take over the hot corner.
Also in his last year is Asdrubal Cabrera of the Cleveland Indians. On the one hand they appear to be in the win-now mode having inked both Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher last year, then swooping in early on David Murphy this year. However, they also let their number one starter and best reliever walk away, so it would seem that any team that could offer up pitching might catch their attention. Prospect Francisco Lindor is knocking on the door and a pitching-centric deal with Ruben Tejada as a one-year stop gap thrown in might interest them. Cabrera earns $10 million in 2014.
Finally there’s Starlin Castro of the Cubs. They have a guy named Javier Baez who slugged 37 HRs this year between A and AA, so there are footsteps behind him despite his contract that averages $8 million per year for the next 8 years. This year it only costs $5 million. Considering they’re paying a scrub like Chris Young $7.25 million, then Castro being a .283 hitter with as many as 14 HRs, 78 RBIs and 25 SBs in a season at a premium position could be considered a steal. Still, we know how Mr. Alderson and his puppeteers feel about long term contracts (David Wright’s notwithstanding), so the likelihood of striking some kind of deal for Castro is slimmer than signing Shin-Soo Choo.
It will take some creativity to solve the myriad of Mets offensive problems. The problem is that this front office doesn’t have spare Cy Young Award winners, batting champions or All-Star outfielders to offer up in trade. Consequently it may take some finagling to get things done. Here’s hoping they know how to move the chess pieces.