While everyone is trying to decipher the outfield configuration after the Yoenis Cespedes signing, there is the issue of how the rest of the Mets’ offseason has put added importance on Wilmer Flores‘ ability to be a super utility infielder.
Make no mistake. The Mets need Flores to be able to handle the role and handle it well. For starters, we do not know David Wright‘s ability to withstand a full 162 game schedule. Last year, Wright had difficulty playing three days in a row. It impacted his offense and defense. With a full offseason to continue the extra work needed due to his spinal stenosis, that could change for Wright. It also may be a new reality.
Flores has to be ready, willing, and able to play third at a moment’s notice. In his major league career, Flores has only played 209 innings at third base. During that limited time, he did show the ability to handle the position. The problem is he has to work on his third base instincts and footwork while addressing his second base defense.
When the Mets acquired Neil Walker to replace Daniel Murphy, the Mets obtained a switch-hitting second baseman who has hit .272/.338/.427 over the course of his career. That’s with him coming off the worst year of his career last season when he hit .269/.328/.427 with 16 homers and 71 RBI. One of Walker’s issues last year was left-handed pitching. Walker hit a dreadful .237/.284/.290 in 62 games against lefties. That’s a .575 OPS compared to .793 against RHP. Effectively, it screams that Walker is a platoon player.
Ideally, the best platoon partner would be Flores. However, Flores has to be able to hit lefties himself and last year, Flores did that with aplomb. In 57 games, Flores hit .310/.355/.600 with 7 of his 16 homers against lefties last year. However, for his career, Flores has only hit .230/.288/.403 against lefties, so was last season ab outlier? Overall, for the Walker trade to work Flores needs to be the 2015 version of himself against lefties as opposed to what he’s done against them in his entire career.
First base is where it starts to get dicey for Flores. With the Cespedes signing, Lucas Duda became the only player on the roster with any major league experience at first base. This forces Flores to learn a new position in addition to keeping prepared for his other backup roles.
How much Flores is needed will depend on Duda. Last year, Duda hit a respectable .285/.333/.545 with seven homers and 21 RBI in 82 games against LHP. However, much of that was fueled by an extraordinarily high BABIP of .385. For his career, Duda has hit .229/.301/.369 with a .321 BABIP. In short, Duda is due for a regression against lefties. It will be Flores’ job to cushion the fall back to earth while hoping his numbers against lefties don’t regress either.
The Mets signed Asdrubal Cabrera to be the new everyday shortstop. A role that used to belong to Flores. Cabrera’s backup to open the season should be Ruben Tejada, who actually wrestled the shortstop job away from Flores last year.
Here’s the issue. The one spot Flores isn’t backing up is the one spot where he was most needed in 2015. Last year, Cabrera had a -6.0 UZR and a -7 DRS at shortstop. For his career, he has a -55.5 UZR and a -29 DRS at short. Tejada had a -5.6 UZR and a -15 DRS at short last year. For his career, he has a -1.5 UZR and a -20 DRS there. Flores had a -2.5 UZR and a -10 DRS at short last year with a 1.5 UZR and a -13 DRS for his career.
So defensively, at least according to all the advanced metrics, Flores is the best defensive shortstop option. In fact, it became apparent during the postseason the great strides Flores had made as a shortstop. However, the Mets are going with Cabrera in the hopes that his .328/.372/.544 second half will carry forward because otherwise the Mets signed a shortstop who has hit .249/.307/.405 in the three years since his last All Star appearance.
Surprisingly, much of the Mets’ new mantra of versatility and flexibility will lie squarely on Flores’ shoulders this season. He has to platoon at second. He has to hit against tough left-handers while playing first. He has to be available at a moment’s notice to spell Wright at third base. And he’s also the top right-handed bat off the bench,.
Flores is still only 24 years old. He works hard, and he will do everything he can do to improve and help the team. He’s going to need to be proficient in three to four infield positions because the Mets really need his help. He’s suddenly become one of the more important pieces in that Mets dugout and even Sandy Alderson recently said he expects a minimum of 400 at-bats for last year’s folk hero.