Before the season began, fans and media knew that Neil Walker would more than likely just be a one-year stopgap for the Mets. Acquired in the off-season trade with the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for lefty Jon Niese, Walker was the backup plan for the Mets not winning the Ben Zobrist free agency sweepstakes. And of course, by saving on Zobrist the Mets were able to sign Yoenis Cespedes to what is seemingly a one-year deal.
Fast forward to the end of July, at a point where the Mets were desperately searching for offense in the worst way. The injury bug stung the Mets clubhouse and many players were simply under-performing on the year, leaving a large void in the lineup on a nightly basis.
General Manager Sandy Alderson pulled off a trade before the deadline approached Monday afternoon, swapping second base prized prospect Dilson Herrera and lefty Max Wotell to the Cincinnati Reds for right fielder Jay Bruce. While Bruce is not expected to pull off the miraculous second half that Cespedes showcased last season, he is expected to generate some power and hopefully continue to contribute to his outstanding numbers with runners in scoring position this year.
However, by trading away Herrera, who was presumed to be next in line to take over the vacated second base position in 2017, the Mets are left to decide who to turn to for that position in the off-season. Depending on how Walker finishes his 2016 season, he might be a candidate to bring back, even if it’s just on the one-year qualifying offer.
The Mets have some decisions to make on that though, because offering a qualifying offer this off-season would likely mean a salary near $17 million annually, a steep price to pay for a guy that has had prolonged slumps this season, including from May 1 to June 30, where Walker put up a slash line of .233/.313/.349 with five homers, 13 RBI, and 39 strikeouts in 51 games.
Of course the flip side of offering Walker the qualifying offer would be in hopes that he rejects it, looking instead to land a multi-year deal in what seemingly might be his last big payday. The Mets would collect a compensation draft pick for Walker turning down the offer, and would be able to keep stockpiling young talent in the minor leagues.
Another option would be to try Jose Reyes out at second base for next season, since he holds a team option at the league minimum, since Colorado is on the hook for the rest of his contract. The option would have to be exercised within five days after the conclusion of the World Series. Although he hasn’t played the position since the Kaz Matsui experiment in 2004, Reyes has handled third base well in limited action this year, and giving him all of the off-season along with spring would surely give him the necessary time to adjust to second base. The question with Reyes however, is whether or not he can stay healthy during the course of the year.
What I propose for the second base conundrum, would be to give two in-house options a chance to earn the starting job. Local product T.J. Rivera and Gavin Cecchini are both viable options to get a chance to earn the spot in 2017.
Rivera, 27, was a topic of discussion back in the spring, when I detailed why he should be given a shot at the major league level. Once again, Rivera has done nothing but hit at Triple A Las Vegas this season, as of Friday afternoon Rivera posted a line of .343/.387/.497 with 10 homers, 74 RBI, and 58 runs scored in 93 games. Rivera has mainly maned third base this season, starting 57 games at the hot corner.
However, Rivera has spent time at second during the course of his minor league career, totaling 262 games at second. Just as recently as last year, Rivera appeared in 39 games at second for Las Vegas and Binghamton, amassing 330 innings played with a .994 fielding percentage.
And on the ever popular topic of hitting with runners in scoring position, something that has been almost as rare this season for the Mets as the famous T206 Honus Wagner baseball card, Rivera has posted a line of .404/.446/.605 in 114 at-bats this year.
What’s also great about Rivera is that he doesn’t strike out a ton, normally within the 11-13% range, while getting on base around 37-38% of the time each year. Throughout his entire minor league career, the lowest wRC+ that Rivera has posted was 103, however in 2015 in Double A Rivera posted a 144 wRC+, then a 111 wRC+ in Triple A in 54 games last year. This season, with Rivera spending the entire year at Triple A, he’s posted another strong wRC+ of 134, with league and park adjusted in the calculation, which is good considering the Pacific Coast League is normally a hitter friendly league, and can give a better idea of the type of hitter Rivera is.
Consistency has been a reoccurring theme for Rivera’s minor league career, now he just needs an opportunity to showcase his talent in Queens. He finally earned a spot with the major league club in spring this year, an encouraging sign that maybe the Mets will be open to giving Rivera a shot down the line. This past week in fact, Alderson admitted that Rivera was a consideration for a call up to replace the injured Cespedes who landed on the 15-day disabled list, however since he’s played primarily in the infield, the Mets went with Brandon Nimmo, who’s already on the 40-man roster, instead.
The other possibility is with Cecchini, 22, the 12th overall pick in 2012 who has posted yet another strong offensive campaign this season. Cecchini’s line of .316/.390/.440 with five homers and 41 RBI is yet another appealing hitter for the Mets to think about utilizing next year. Like Rivera, Cecchini is also an on-base machine, with almost as many walks (40) as strikeouts (42), and has lowered his strikeout rate drastically from his early minor league seasons to a reasonable 11.5% this year. Cecchini also boasts strong numbers with runners in scoring position, with a line of .348/.430/.489 in 92 at-bats.
His bat has intrigued scouts the last few seasons, it’s his glove that needs improvement. Cecchini has been a shortstop throughout his entire minor league career, amassing 387 games at the position. He received positive grades by scouts on his fielding prowess early on in his career, however, the last three seasons Cecchini has recorded 27, 28, and 29 errors at short, many of them throwing errors. With top prospect Amed Rosario in Double A and making a strong case to be ready by mid 2017 to take over at short, keeping Cecchini at short in Triple A seems foolish. Why not move him over to second, where he can have the rest of the year to get accustomed to the position, and then have him transition in the off-season where he can compete in camp for the spot in 2017? His offensive game is intriguing enough to warrant a tryout at second base.
Both Rivera and Cecchini offer solid splits against both righties and lefties this season, and Rivera offers the option of playing multiple positions for the Mets. Alderson and Co. will have plenty of choices for second next year, the question is, do they finally give a shot to two players that fans have heard about and are waiting to see, or perhaps go a different route, perhaps sticking with Walker for another season or going with Reyes and or Flores? With Herrera out of the mix, Rivera and Cecchini at the very least move up the ladder, and continue to let their consistent play and stats do all the talking for them.