Despite Thursday's offensive explosion, there's definitely a dearth of middle-of-the-order hitting with the injuries to David Wright, Lucas Duda and Travis d'Arnaud (not to mention the lackluster production from Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson). While a lot of ink has been written about how to replace Wright, not much attention has been paid to the corner position on the other side of the diamond. Penciling in David Wright for more than 15/60 would have been a fool’s bet anyway, but Lucas Duda when healthy was a 25-30 HR guy whose presence is actually missed more than Wright’s. James Loney is a nice story and a good bat off the bench, but there’s a reason last place teams like the Rays and Padres had no room for him.
Let’s take a look at some obvious and less obvious choices to address the power void the injuries have caused. Some are household names while others may have you running to BaseballReference.com to look up the numbers.
The Cincinnati Reds are a flat-out awful team that needs a change in direction in the worst way. They’ve been dangling outfielder Jay Bruce for some time now and it’s likely that with the recent injury to starter J.D. Martinez the Tigers may swoop in to provide salary relief for the rebuilding effort. Bruce’s paycheck pales in comparison to a superstar having as notable a bad start as the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton. Joey Votto happens to play 1B and I’m willing to bet the Reds would like to be out from under a contract that is set to pay close to $200 million through his age 39 season. The man does produce. A typical year for him would give you 28 HRs, 92 RBIs, a .307 average and a .421 OBP. Now before you say the Mets can’t afford him, consider that David Wright is set to earn $67 million over the remainder of his contract (not including this year). That’s an average of 16.75 million per year. Votto’s contract averages $24 million per year for 8 more years. Could you get the Reds to kick in some money to bring those numbers closer together? For example, if the Reds kicked in $6 million per year to knock $48 million off the contract, his incremental cost is $1.25 million over what you’re set to pay Wright. This assumes, of course, that Wright is done and headed to retirement.
A less risky and shorter term solution is the Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnacion. Like clockwork he provides 33/100/.266 year in and year out. While he is primarily DH for Toronto, he’s on their depth chart as the backup first baseman to Adam Lind. He earns $10 million this year and is a free agent at year’s end. That means you can negotiate with him or extend a virtually risk-free qualifying offer and get back a supplemental draft pick.
Tougher to pull off (but potentially more helpful overall to the Mets) would be approaching the Cleveland Indians about DH Carlos Santana. He is capable of both catching and 1B, provides 20 HR power and good OBP numbers. He’s earning $8.75 million this year with a $12 million option for 2017 or a buyout of $1.2 million. He’s currently providing 13/33/.226. The average is uncharacteristically low, but the power is definitely there.
I’ve written about the Brewer’s Jonathan Lucroy here already but it bears repeating. He’s a career .284 hitter who is having a bit of a power surge this year with 10 HRs and 33 RBIs while hitting .310. He’s capable of playing both C and 1B. He earns a paltry $4 million this year and an option for $5.25 million next year or a low cost buyout.
Throughout his career the Dodgers’ Scott Van Slyke has shown a power stroke. He’s been set back a bit by injuries but is healthy now and playing left field due to injuries to Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier. Once they return he is back to the bench but this bargain-priced 20 HR power hitter could be a starter at 1B.
Buried in the Seattle Mariners depth chart is an older Korean import named Dae-Ho Lee. Despite some pretty impressive numbers – 10 HRs and a .298 average – he’s not a starter for them. He earns just $1 million on a one-year deal. His best position is 1B.
First baseman Byung-Ho Park of the Minnesota Twins is off to a slow batting average start but is showing the famous power he had in Korea. He’s got 11 HRs already despite a .204 average. How much power does he have? In the last two years he hit 52 and 53 home runs respectively. The Twins possibly may want to bail on him given his rocky start, though his total contract through $2019 is only $11.5 million.
Yet another Korean import I’ve written about in the past is Hyun Soo Kim – a .300 hitter for 10 years in Korea with as many as 28 HRs. He almost never strikes out, had OBP as .454, and is batting .319 in limited use in Baltimore while earning an average of $3.5 million this year and next. Since the Orioles are in first place they may not want to tamper with success, but it never hurts to ask.
I will toss out a few names in the 3B arena as well, though there’s not much new to say in this regard. The most direct replacement for David Wright in terms of his former production, good guy image and salary is Tampa’s Evan Longoria. His current contract would run through his age 31 through 36 seasons at an average rate of $15.66 million per year to provide $30/103/.271. He’s on track to do even more this year at 16/40/.278. Being relieved of that salary would allow them to rebuild much like the Reds could by pawning off Bruce and Votto, but he’s entrenched in Tampa the same way Wright has been in New York. Getting them convinced to make the deal would take a lot of work given the fallout that would likely result from their fan base.
One name I heard a lot last year but not this year is New Jersey’s Todd Frazier, current near the top of the AL power charts with 19 HRs despite a .204 average. He’s earning a modest $8.75 million this year and set to be arbitration eligible (big bump in pay) in 2017, then a free agent in 2018. The White Sox spent an awful lot of money to try to buy their way into contention this season but it hasn’t worked out as planned. I don’t think you could pry him away but again it doesn’t cost much to find out.
Personally, I’m willing to see what Wilmer Flores can do at one of the corners full time if you can import some solid talent for the other one.