It appears as though the New York Mets won't be signing Stephen Drew (that would make too much sense), so shortstop seems to belong to Ruben Tejada by default. Still, Sandy Alderson has made little secret of the fact he’d like to upgrade, reportedly talking to the Mariners and D-backs about possible trades, and Terry Collins has even given Wilmer Flores some reps.
Flores actually began his pro career as a shortstop, but hasn’t played a regular season game there since 2011. The consensus within the baseball industry is that he’s simply not mobile enough to man the position, but is a good enough hitter to be an asset at third or even second.
Given the circumstances, however, Flores might actually be the Mets’ best option at shortstop, and that’s not as crazy as it sounds when you consider a variety of factors.
For starters, the Mets’ starters are almost all fly-ball pitchers.
League average GB rate in 2013: 44.5%
Bartolo Colon: 41.5%
Jonathon Niese: 51.5%
Dillon Gee: 42.6%
Zack Wheeler: 43.2%
Daisuke Matsuzaka: 28.3%
Other than Niese, every other member of the projected rotation had a ground ball rate of below league average last year, making Flores’ lack of range less problematic. (Note: I’m assuming Dice-K gets the No. 5 spot. Jenrry Mejia relies on ground balls and would alter this analysis to some degree.)
As some sabermetrically-inclined Mets fans might remember, Davey Johnson used to sometimes play Kevin Mitchell at shortstop (Kevin Mitchell!) in 1986 when fly-ball specialist Sid Fernandez was on the hill. Same concept here.
To their credit, the Mets did a great job of recognizing the makeup of their pitching staff with their offseason moves, bringing in Chris Young and Curtis Granderson, both of whom are outstanding defensive outfielders in the corners, with Young also an asset in center. No longer should Mets fans (and pitchers) be subject to Lucas Duda’s circuitous routes of the recent past.
And before we get too crazy about Flores’ defense, it’s not like he’s replacing Mark Belanger here. Tejada was very steady earlier in his career, but has developed a penchant for careless mistakes, and most advanced metrics have him as league average or a tick below. That would be OK if he could hit, but he can’t. The ZiPS projection system forecasts a .255/.309/.326 line for him, which would be unacceptable even if he were an asset with the glove.
Flores, meanwhile, gets a .263/.297/.409 projection from ZiPS, but he is younger than Tejada, and has a track record of hitting. He’s a .290 career hitter in the minors with more than 50 extra-base hits in each of the last two seasons. Tejada’s track record suggests his projection is a realistic baseline, while Flores offers a lot more promise than that.
If nothing else, the Mets should give Flores a chance at short because they have nothing to lose. It’s clear that Tejada is not the long-term answer, and it will be years before top shortstop prospect Gavin Cecchini and Amed Rosario are ready.
As we’ve learned from ESPN’s Giant Killers series in college hoops, teams that are inferior on paper pull upsets by using high-risk, high-reward strategies. If the Mets want to potentially surprise some folks -- and aren’t willing to sign Drew or make a trade -- they can do it by hoping Flores fulfills his promise with the bat (say, .290/.330/.420), while hiding behind a staff of fly-ball pitchers.
Besides, it’s no less crazy than letting a 40-year-old coming off a major ankle injury be your everyday shortstop, right?