Featured Post: Balancing Growing Pains With Search For Run Production

wilmer floresThe long-anticipated arrival of Wilmer Flores to the Mets’ big league roster highlighted two areas of concern for the organization going forward: first, the dearth of viable position player prospects at the upper levels of the system, and second, the need for a modicum of patience on the part of fans and management alike to allow those few prospects that emerge sufficient time to develop and adapt their skills to the majors.

With most satisfied that the team’s pitching is an area of strength by virtue of both the talent level and the sheer number of young arms at or near the big league level, more attention is being focused on addressing the long-term needs of the offense.

With the addition to the lineup of Flores and Juan Lagares, fans are getting a look at what may be two main components of the Mets’ future. When Travis D’Arnaud finally makes his debut, most likely as a September call-up, another important piece will be added to the mix. The question now is, how will the development of these players and others in the organization be handled in light of the team’s pressing need for more consistent run production?

A closer look at the Met offense reveals a startling disconnect: although the team ranks a surprising 7th in the league in runs (ahead of division rivals Washington and Philadelphia, as well as division leaders Pittsburgh and LA), it ranks near the bottom in average, slugging, and OPS, leading only the Marlins in each of those categories. While this suggests that the Mets have made the most of the offense they do have, it also suggests that they have been the beneficiaries of a large degree of luck.

To be fair, it should be noted that the organization’s emphasis on getting on base seems to have had an effect – the team is ranked 3rd in the league in walks, trailing only the Reds and the Braves. Interestingly enough, the team OBP (a mere .307) ranks 12th in the NL, indicating that without all those walks, the Mets would really be starved for scoring chances.

And so the quest continues for more offensive firepower to supplement what many hope is an emerging pitching powerhouse. To put that in perspective, it is important to remember that there is still significant work to be done before anointing the construction of the Met mound staff as a fait accompli. At present, the team’s pitching ranks 9th in the league with a respectable 3.76 ERA. But a glance at the leaderboard shows why Pittsburgh has been so dominant despite scoring fewer runs – their team ERA of 3.07 along with 14 shutouts and 40 saves leads all of baseball, suggesting that the road to the postseason can be traveled primarily on the strength of a team’s arms rather than its bats.

Still, it seems that most of the frustration expressed by fans and the organization this season has been related to the team’s inability to score runs, particularly late in games. Winning does much to quiet such grousing however, and if the team winds up on the right side of the score in most of its games, even if it’s a comparatively low score, most everyone will be satisfied. Of course, this is easier said than done, and management will be expected to address production issues at certain positions (i.e. first base, shortstop, outfield) during the upcoming offseason. Given that some of the organization’s most promising young players will figure in the discussion, where will management look to supplement or possibly replace these players heading into 2014 and beyond?

OUTFIELD: While the sample size is relatively small, the current outfield configuration of Young, Lagares, and Byrd seems to have given the team a consistent enough balance of offense and defense to merit consideration of leaving this crew more or less intact. I say “more or less” as Byrd’s status for next season is certainly up in the air given his age, the outlier characteristic of his numbers, and the fact that his position is the preferred one of Shin-Soo Choo, a likely free agent target. Additionally, not all are convinced of Young’s legitimacy as an everyday player, but unless there is a drastic drop-off in his production between now and the end of the season, it is likely that the team will regard him as the incumbent leadoff man heading into next year. This leaves Lagares, whose defense alone has endeared him to both fans and management. That he has started to hit a bit, and shown a penchant for gap power has helped to solidify his case. If he can continue to develop and hold his own along the way, there would seem to be little reason to seek an upgrade. Thus, the most likely of this group to be replaced looks to be Byrd, despite his surprising 2013 production.

INFIELD:  If young Mr. Flores is to stick, it will be at either first or second base. Whether he will hit enough to merit the corner slot remains to be seen, but if the organization deems his potential as a second sacker sufficient, they will have to weigh the merits of allowing him to supplant Daniel Murphy. Personally, I’m a Murphy fan and would just as soon see him stick around at second and let Flores try his hand at first, but obviously there are numerous possibilities for juggling this situation. While it is possible that the infield could revert to an earlier incarnation if Reuben Tejada and Ike Davis manage to re-establish themselves, I think most of us sense that a change is likely. One possibility for the offseason here might involve a deal for a more offensively capable shortstop, and though clearly a longshot, a semi-blockbuster involving the Rangers’ Jurickson Profar would be a good use of the tradeable assets at hand. Dream on you say? Fine. Stranger things have happened. The oft-discussed possibility of signing Corey Hart for first remains an option which would put a decision regarding second base at the forefront of trade possibilities and unleashes a host of discussion topics regarding left/right lineup balance, contract status, defensive metrics, etc. That will have to wait for another time.

CATCHER: As long as Travis d’Arnaud can remain healthy (no small matter, so far), this should be a no-brainer. What interests me is whether or not Terry Collins will let him get enough breaks during the season, something that has clearly benefited John Buck when it has happened, and something that, in my opinion, hasn’t happened enough.

As the roster takes shape going into next season, I foresee an improvement over this year, although not a quantum leap by any stretch. With the possibility of rookies and second year players occupying three or more positions in the field, “development” will continue to be a keyword for the Mets during the upcoming campaign. As a longtime fan, I’ve learned to be patient and appreciate the thrill of a homegrown player blossoming. If this kind of philosophy remains pervasive enough throughout the fan base to help carry the team through the likely growing pains that remain is debatable. Still, I feel the day that all that patience pays off is growing ever closer.

About Gerry Silverman 54 Articles
Having caught the Met bug as a youth during the Miracle run of 1969, I've remained a steadfast fan through the highs and (too many) lows. After many years in the Financial Services biz, I now devote much of my attention to my favorite pursuits: blues guitar, books, movies, and all things Metsian.