Since the final day of the 2013 season, the New York Mets have been rumored to be in the market for a new shortstop. Now, it’s looking more and more like their best options could come from within the organization.
They were first linked to free agent Jhonny Peralta, but he quickly signed a 4-year, $53 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. They played a free-agent tango with Stephen Drew (and his agent, Scott Boras), but not only did Drew pass on the Mets, he has yet to sign with any organization. In Spring Training, the Mets were interested in Nick Franklin of the Seattle Mariners. Trade talks fizzled, perhaps because the Mariners wanted one of the Mets’ top pitching prospects (Rafael Montero was one of the names bandied about), or perhaps because the Mets were underwhelmed by Franklin’s ability at shortstop. Franklin is projected by most talent evaluators to be a second baseman.
Didi Gregorious is the latest name associated with the Mets. The 24 year old had a .252/.332/.373 slash line in his rookie season with seven home runs. According to defensive metrics, he was right around league-average with the glove. It was a performance consistent with his performance in the minor leagues, where the prospect had a career slash of .273/.324/.381, which might indicate a lack of upside.
Out of the three options that seemingly remain for the Mets, would one of Drew, Franklin or Gregorious be a significant upgrade over their current options at shortstop? And would either of them be worth the price they have to pay?
The Mets reportedly offered Drew a one-year, $9.5 million contract. It was summarily rejected by Drew’s camp. Drew is an average shortstop by any measure, in the field and at the plate. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Average” would be a significant improvement than performances of Mets’ shortstops last year. But it seems the Mets are still not willing to push their payroll more than $100 million this year, and offering Drew any more scratch than they already did would creep the figure closer to triple digits.
Franklin and Gregorious are nice players, but the Mets would be wise to hold onto their pitching prospects. Jon Niese‘s health is a question mark after suffering minor shoulder and elbow injuries this spring, and Matt Harvey is already on the shelf for the season. The Mets really don’t have enough depth to trade from strength. They have enough depth to build a starting rotation that will last over the next few years.
Incumbent shortstop Ruben Tejada looked like he couldn’t get out of his own way when Spring Training began. Over the past week, he’s improved at the plate and in the field. That doesn’t mean he’s suddenly the next Ozzie Smith, but it means he could claw his way back to being league-average, as he was in 2012. Should Tejada falter, prospect Wilmer Flores showed a certain amount of competency at short this spring, even after not playing the position since 2011. Flores projects to be a much better hitter than Tejada as well.
The prudent thing to do for the Mets may just be to punt on finding an outside option at short. It would probably cost them too much in treasure or personnel. As the season begins, a better trade opportunity may come along, or Drew may lower his asking price. But for now, there’s no obvious benefit to rushing into a trade or a free agent signing.