Wilmer Flores never wanted to leave New York, and his retention has paid dividends
There have been so many different turning points and momentous events for the Mets in 2015.
It can be argued their 13-3 start saved them.
It’s been argued by this author it was their 4-2 trip to the west coast in early July, moments after being swept away by the Cubs at Citi Field, which put the Mets in position to start shopping for reinforcements ahead of the trade deadline.
There’s the Yoenis Cespedes acquisition, which was an opportunity seized by the Mets and a player who instantly installed credibility to the Mets lineup and transformed their offense into one of baseball’s most formidable forces.
There was the three-game sweep of the Nationals in which the Mets roared into a tie for first place, and of course the series in which the Mets finally put the Nationals away over Labor Day weekend.
All of these events and circumstances are hugely important to the Mets run at their third World Championship.
There’s also the “what-if” scenarios which can be defined as turning points for the Mets in 2015.
Recall, Cespedes was close to never becoming a Met.
Just two days earlier, the Mets had agreed in principle to send Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler to Milwaukee in exchange for former Met and now star outfielder Carlos Gomez.
It was that day the industry was reminded that all of the sabermetrics, computer analysis and baseball science in the world cannot replace the simple beauty of the human element in baseball.
Flores learned he had been traded not by his manager, not by his general manager, but by a fan sitting by the dugout in the stands.
The franchise who had given birth to Flores’ professional career and given him an opportunity seven years ago didn’t want him anymore.
“I just didn’t want to leave New York,” Flores said on Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Friday night.
But seemingly moments later, after a stirring display of emotion from Flores on the field, Sandy Alderson announced there was no trade, and both Flores and Wheeler would remain with the club.
Some of the best trades in baseball history are ones that are never made, this being one of them.
But Sandy Alderson felt the club still needed a hitter, he told Joel Sherman of the New York Post recently, and thought not getting one, even if they had reached the World Series, would be regrettable.
“There was a sense on our part that even if we got all the way to the World Series and lost and we hadn’t gotten a hitter that we would forever hear that we are partially in and if we get to the World Series and lose, people will point to the fact that we were not all in,” Alderson said. “And they would be right. It wasn’t ‘Do this because this is what the fans will think.’ The fans would be right. They would just be affirming what we knew to be true.”
So, Alderson went right back to work and tried to pry Justin Upton from the Padres. According to Sherman, he had both Upton and Yoenis Cespedes on the table, but with the Padres balking and the clock ticking towards the deadline on July 31, Alderson pulled off a deal for Cespedes.
The Mets were all in, all without having to deal either Wheeler or Flores. And Flores delivered on the Mets faith on July 31 when he hit a dramatic, game-winning home run against the Nationals, changing the tone and momentum of the National League East for the rest of the season.
And here Flores is, playing shortstop for the Mets in the World Series, something even he couldn’t have predicted, especially after dealing with the flood of emotions over leaving the Mets.
“If you had told me in February that I was going to play shortstop in the World Series, I would have said, ‘I don’t know about that,’ ” Flores said, according to the New York Post. “Now I’m here and I’m thankful for everything I went through. Everything happens for a reason and here we are.”
He was a huge part of that success, too. He hit .296/.329/.479 with eight doubles, six home runs and 19 RBI in 44 games since not being traded on July 29. He struggled a bit down the stretch, posting just a .624 OPS in his final 21 games, but Terry Collins attributed those struggles to mental and physical fatigue, so Flores spent much of the final week of the season at rest.
But he would find himself on the bench to start the postseason, as Collins insisted upon playing Ruben Tejada for his defense up the middle, not to mention Tejada’s own strong finish to the season in which he hit .296/.367/.394.
But that would be short-lived, as Tejada’s leg was broken by an, “illegal slide” from Chase Utley in Game 2 of the National League Division Series.
Enter Flores, again, as the Mets shortstop.
“You never want anyone to get hurt, especially Ruben, but it happened and then you think, ‘Well, this is your chance now to go show you can do it,’ ” Flores told the Post. “You want to make the most of it.”
And he has done just that. Flores is 7-for-24 with two doubles, a triple and three walks, posting an .829 OPS in 27 plate appearances during the playoffs so far in 2015.
“Sometimes I still think about that trade,” Flores said. “And I think, ‘Where would I be now if I had been traded?’ If that happened, I’d have gone to play in Milwaukee and then I’d go home and watch the World Series.”
Instead, he will be in Kansas City playing in the World Series.
Flores’ story is truly remarkable, and it remains unfinished with at least four more games to play in 2015.
So many doubted him right from the beginning of spring training and his ability to play shortstop. He got off the the worst possible start too, committing an array of errors in the first weekend of the season in Atlanta. But the Mets stuck with him, endured those bumps and bruises, and he cleaned his act up at shortstop to at least be serviceable despite his limited range.
His story would take that unusual twist at the end of July in which he was an absolute goner if not for Alderson and Co.’s hesitation to put a stamp on their trade agreement with Milwaukee. And in a blink of an eye, he would create even more theatre with his home run against the Nationals.
It’s a very Metsian-type story, as a kid with obvious flaws has persevered and become a key contributor in the Mets World Series run.
And there’s more to come.