By adding Walker and Cabrera, the Mets have added versatility via creative options
From the moment the Mets lost the World Series, they set out to improve their roster versatility, reduce the number of strikeouts in the lineup, and become a more contact-oriented team.
There’s no question signing Ben Zobrist would have accomplished that goal, and why the Mets so heavily pursued him in their failed attempt to sign him this winter. He can play all four positions on the infield plus two positions in the outfield. He’s one of the best fastball hitters in the game, doesn’t strikeout very much and hits from both sides of the plate.
That’s the very essence of versatility.
The procurement of Neil Walker and their agreed upon deal with Asdrubal Cabrera doesn’t directly accomplish their goals of signing truly versatile players, although Cabrera can play both middle infield positions with below average defense, and Walker insisted on Wednesday he can play third base if needed.
But the Mets might have been able to manufacture versatility on their infield with these two acquisitions by creating options and match-ups at both middle infield positions.
Walker is a switch hitter, but his .575 OPS against left-handed pitching in 2015 made him a mostly ineffective solution from the right side. But his .793 OPS from the left side in 2015 makes him a legitimate left-handed threat which will see the bulk of the action against right-handed pitching.
The Mets can pair Walker with Wilmer Flores at second base, who posted a .955 against left-handed pitching in 2015, thus improving upon their .731 OPS at the position in 2015, which was already 25 points above league-average.
That’s a very intriguing platoon possibility for the Mets at second base, and it puts Flores at a position he admitted last season he is more comfortable playing.
Flores can also serve as a backup to David Wright at third base.
The case is a little more difficult at shortstop, as Cabrera’s splits were not as dramatic in 2015.
Like Walker, Cabrera is also switch hitter. He hit .281/.300/.425 in 160 plate appearances against left-handed pitching in 2015, .259/.321/.432 in 391 plate appearances against right-handed pitching. Those are very similar marks, although the sample size against right-handers is far greater than that against left-handers.
And his career marks suggest he’s more productive from the right-side of the plate, albeit by a slight margin in a smaller sample size than that against right-handed pitching.
So, it’s safe to say Cabrera might simply be the staple at shortstop out of the gate, with no platoon necessary until he proves otherwise. But as is the case at second base, the Mets might not miss a beat having Flores in there for Cabrera on occasion against a tough left-hander, and it might be prudent for the Mets to limit Cabrera’s exposure at that position on a daily basis considering his shortcomings defensively.
The Mets can always shift Cabrera to second base and use Flores at shortstop against left-handed pitching in an effort to protect Walker’s weakness against southpaws as well, again attempting to improve upon their .698 OPS at shortstop in 2015, which was 17 points above the league average.
It’s strange that Flores can suddenly be a versatile solution on the Mets infield, considering all the criticism he’s received for his defense in recent years.
This all leaves Ruben Tejada as a utility infielder and an extra right-handed bat off the bench. Like a lot of Mets in 2015, Tejada showed he can be more valuable playing less and in a part time role, so this roster position should suit him well.
Of course, whether it’s Cabrera, Walker, Flores, or Tejada, the middle infield defense will always be adventurous, and painful to watch at times as well.
What does this mean for Matt Reynolds and Dilson Herrera?
The Mets could opt to carry Herrera and either trade Tejada or designate him for assignment in Spring Training. By tendering him a contract last week, the Mets are committing to at least 1/6 of his agreed upon salary through the arbitration process, and team officials have indicated it’s unlikely he will be designated for assignment this winter. If Tejada is in camp within the final 15 days of Spring Training, the Mets would be on the hook for at most 1/4 of his salary, and once the bell rings on Opening Day, his salary becomes guaranteed for the year.
Given the Mets were toying with the idea of non-tendering Tejada, there’s a logical possibility the Mets might try to move him in a trade. It would free up $2-3 million in payroll, create an opportunity for one of their top prospects, and allow them to allocate those resources elsewhere.
The same could be said for Flores, who the Mets were willing to trade for Carlos Gomez ahead of the trade deadline in July. But Flores will make the league minimum in 2016, so it would be more sensible to shop Tejada and try and get his contract off the books.
Trading one of their right-handed infielder could widen the opening for them to re-sign Kelly Johnson, which would make their bench more left-handed and give them even more power from that part of the roster.
A trade could also take place in Spring Training as well. But until that happens, it seems Herrera could be destined to start the season at Triple-A, a place some in the organization feel he belongs to start the year.
As for Reynolds, he was added to the 40-man roster in October as an injury replacement to Tejada. But these two moves for Walker and Cabrera all but assure Reynolds will head to Triple-A, which is where he might belong.
Terry Collins did say this week he wants to afford Reynolds an opportunity to show what he can do at the big league level, but there’s no logical place for him on the roster right now.
He’s best suited at Triple-A where he can play everyday and continue to hone his skills as a versatile middle infielder, which is clearly what the Mets are trying to achieve as their refined organizational philosophy going forward.
All-in-all, while the Mets didn’t necessarily acquire multi-dimensional players in Walker and Cabrera, they created versatility by adding creative options and match-ups at both middle infield positions while at the same time creating an insurance policy at third base. It may not be pretty on some days, but they have the potential of being even more productive than they were in 2015 at these positions, which can help make up for the loss in production by the likely departure of Yoenis Cespedes.
And it’s that creativity which may ultimately get the Mets over the top in 2016.