The Mets have two clear-cut positions to fill by Opening Day 2015: shortstop and left field. The Mets have gotten very little in the way of offensive production from those positions. That is both good and bad. While it hurts them this season, it gives the Mets two well-defined areas they need to improve upon.
Given the run differential, production at each position, and prospects in the minor league system, this team could definitely finish at or above .500 this season. In fact, given their run differential, they should be above .500. Seeing as run differential is actually more predictive than a team’s current win-loss record, this means good things are likely in store for the second half. As much as Mets fans will point to some stretches of the season to point out the mediocrity of this club, they really aren’t that far away from being a playoff team.
Say the Mets finish 81-81 this season. They will get one of the best pitchers in baseball back in Matt Harvey. After that, they are really only one or two players away from being a contender. With the continued growth of the bullpen, Jacob deGrom, and Juan Lagares, that certainly seems possible. In my opinion, the Mets would be best off substantially upgrading at both positions
. They probably don’t need to fork over too many top prospects for a superstar, and given the financial state of the club, that doesn’t seem likely.
At shortstop, the two obvious candidates seem to be Cubs shortstops Starlin Castro and Javier Baez. Both are young and under team control for a while. Castro has played at an All-Star level for a number of years, and Baez certainly seems primed to do the same. With the Cubs reeling and possessing a plethora of shortstops and third basemen, a Mets-Cubs partnership couldn’t be clearer. However, for some reason or another, the Cubs are extremely reluctant to even consider trading either Castro or Baez. They may even have plans to move Castro to third base in order to keep him and Baez.
There are other solid options on the market for the Mets, however, albeit not as ideal as the two players from the Cubs. One in particular, Rays shortstop/second baseman Ben Zobrist, may be the next best option.
Zobrist, 33, is certainly not the player he used to be. In 2009, he hit .297/.405/.543 with 27 homers, 17 steals, and an 8.5 fWAR. Last year, he hit .275/.354/.402 with 12 homers, 11 steals, and a 5.5 fWAR, still among baseball’s best middle infielders. He is on pace to put up comparable numbers this season. The obvious flaw with Zobrist is his age. He just turned 33. He’s not exactly the budding young star (but again, he is a great player) the Mets are looking for, but he is on a completely different planet than Ruben Tejada, and his game may be more transferrable with age. His baseball smarts as well as his ability to get on base at a high clip aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, it is only the ages of Castro and Baez that make them more attractive options than Zobrist, who is a much better player than both of them. In fact, an older team looking to make one last run would definitely choose Zobrist over Baez or Castro. It is just their ability to stick around for a long time that make them slightly better options for the Mets.
Financially, Zobrist is owed about $11 million through next year, which is a team option. Unlike many other trade targets, the winning bidder won’t be saddled with a cumbersome contract. $7.5 million, his salary for next year, is quite a steal. He would get twice that on the open market.
No, this isn’t exactly the type of player that is going to be the face of the Mets for the next ten years, but neither is Castro, and it is a move that will make the Mets a significantly better team. MLB shortstops have a combined 87 wRC+ this year. As a team, Met shortstops have put up a wRC+ of just 78. By comparison, Zobrist’s is 117. And on top of that, he has a good glove, versatility (he can play short, second, and right field), and is a good baserunner. Getting league average production out of the shortstop position is difficult (only seven teams have done it this season), and getting well above average production is even more impressive.
No doubt, the Rays will charge a premium for Zobrist. They have shown time and time again how much they value him. However, any package for Zobrist will not be as hefty as what the Cubs will demand for Castro because of the age difference and Castro’s team-friendly contract. If the Rays fall out of the AL East race and decide to sell, there may be another almost-perfect option for the Mets to look at.
(Photos: Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports)