With shortstop being one of the New York Mets‘ biggest questions heading into the season, it seemed inevitable for them to give Wilmer Flores a chance at that position. After he’s spent a little more than a month playing shortstop in triple-A, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, as the Mets have promoted Flores and and designated Omar Quintanilla for assignment. But this move isn’t choosing Flores over Quintanilla; it’s the Mets choosing Flores over Ruben Tejada and essentially choosing offense over defense.
For as bad as Tejada’s been offensively this season — and he’s been truly dreadful with a slash line of .183/.302/.207 — he’s been steady defensively. Tejada’s defense was suspect last season, especially early in the season when the Mets had a slew of games in cold weather environments. But he has just two errors this season and for the most part has avoided egregious mistakes in the field.
By playing Flores as shortstop instead of Tejada, the Mets are willingly giving up a certain level of competency in their middle infield defense. Flores has good hands and a strong enough arm to handle shortstop, but his footwork around the bag is awkward and his range is limited, meaning that outs with Tejada on the field will turn into base hits with Flores on the field and double plays turned with Tejada on the field may not be turned with Flores.
This is a risky proposition for a team like the Mets that’s reliant on pitching to win games. The Mets don’t have many pitchers who are going to strike out a significant number of opposing hitters, which means they rely on competent defense being played behind them and obviously few positions are as important defensively as shortstop.
The Mets are counting on Flores to give them a boost offensively to make up for his defensive shortcomings. There’s no doubt that this is the right time to add him to the lineup, as Flores has shaken off a slow start to the season and gotten hot over the last week with 14 hits in his last eight games, including four home runs and three doubles. More importantly, the Mets haven’t scored a run in their last 23 innings, and on the heels of a disastrous road trip they need to inject some life into the lineup.
However, Flores is not a polished shortstop, and despite playing the position early in his minor league career, he’s not an ideal fit for the position. It’s also important to keep in mind that after an offseason of working on his quickness and agility, Flores’ range at the position is as good as it’s going to get, meaning there’s little reason to believe that he’ll be able to significantly improve upon his defense from what we’ll see in the weeks to come.
Whether Flores can offset with the bat what he’ll lack defensively at shortstop is yet to be determined, but there’s no getting around the fact that the Mets are sacrificing a known commodity on defense for the hope of generating some more offense.