With the off season fast approaching, it’s time for Sandy Alderson to get to work. We’ll be moving around the diamond to see what challenges the Mets face for 2017, and see what we could do to help fix them, or perhaps mess them up even more. Look, we don’t get paid for this, so Sandy should listen to us at his own risk.
Second Base (which Chase Utley still hasn’t touched)
Once upon a time, the Mets employed the greatest second baseman to ever live. When his contract ran out, he begged to return, and was willing to work for minimum wage. Evil Sandy refused, hitting Murphy in the face with a bat named Lucille causing him to land in the snow. Murphy gained revenge by going to Washington and playing to the standard that he played at every single season in New York. The Mets, distraught, forced a five year old child to play second base for the first month before just giving up and playing with eight players out of shame. Murphy immediately entered the Hall of Fame at the end of the season, his spikes dipped in gold. The End.
Well, that’s not quite how it happened, but if you’ve been only following the team on social media, you might have gotten this impression. Murphy became Hack Wilson in Washington, but the Mets didn’t exactly put a plate of chopped liver at second base, as they acquired Neil Walker from the Pirates. Walker put up good numbers overall which were buoyed by a hot start and a hot finish, before he had to end his season early due to back surgery. And now Walker’s contract is over, and with Dilson Herrera gone in the Jay Bruce trade, the Mets are looking for a second baseman again.
Walker’s season was somewhat of an anomaly, as he matched his career high in home runs in just 110 games, and had career highs in slugging percentage and on base percentage. Also, we expected Walker to be an improvement over Murphy defensively just by default. Instead, Walker put up the best defensive numbers in his career according to UZR and UZR/150. Aside from unfair comparisons and carrying torches, Walker was an excellent acquisition for the Mets … one that the team that traded him publicly regretted. So should the Mets take a chance that this will be the new normal and try to lock up Walker long term?
Absolutely. The Mets may or may not tend Walker a qualifying offer. If they do, they just might be lucky enough to have Walker accept, as he may want to bet on himself after an early end to 2016. But Walker has probably garnered enough interest even in a truncated season to get a nice deal. And the competition among free agents just might favor Walker this year rather than next. So by all means offer that QO, but be prepared to offer Walker a big deal because the alternatives are dicey. T.J. Rivera might have a career that is befitting of a starting second baseman. Or he could be the Bronx’s version of Nick Evans. Gavin Cecchini is very young and has only played three games at second base in the minors. And Kelly Johnson won’t be with the club at the start of the season because he’ll be waiting for the Mets to trade for him again.
Ian Kinsler is an interesting option if Walker can’t reach a deal with the Mets. If the Mets are going to deal with the Tigers again, dealing Kinsler would be a good way for the Tigers to shed some payroll. Kinsler also had his best season since 2011, and he has two years left in his deal which will pay him $11 million and an option for $12 million (or a $5 million buyout for 2018). (When that expires, it will be in time for the Mets to resign Daniel Murphy.) But would you rather have Kinsler’s age 35 and 36 seasons, or would you rather have Walker at a similar cost at four years younger, while keeping the prospect?
I’m going to put Ben Zobrist in this category, only because the Cubs might be interested in a little reshuffling to get some younger guys some playing time next season. They have Javy Baez at second base, and in the outfield next season will be some combination of Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, Jason Heyward, Albert Almora Jr., and maybe Willson Contreras if they decide to move him out there. They appreciate Zobrist’s versatility, but do they need it? I’m sure if the Cubs had their choice, they’d get out from under that Heyward contract and package one of those young players to go somewhere else (most likely Soler). Failing that, there might be very little room for Zobrist to play next year, so why not trade him somewhere? I’m sure that isn’t their first choice, and I wouldn’t put the odds at much past 10 percent, but that’s just enough to make it pipe dream level if the Cubs area ready to give Baez the full time gig at second base.
Tomorrow, we look at third base and check in to see if Felix Mantilla, Mike Cubbage, or Tom O’Malley are fit to return to play some games there.