On the surface, the news on Thursday from Anthony DiComo that the Mets may not be completely finished with the idea of Wilmer Flores as a shortstop seems like the kind of off-season headline that makes Mets fans slap their own foreheads. After all, there's not a scout out there, including myself, that still believes that Flores will make a capable major league shortstop.
But at second glance, the Mets idea to potentially play Flores there is brilliant. It's exactly what they should be doing right now. Let me explain.
The Mets are not going to be competitive in 2014. Despite heading in the right direction as an organization, the injury that Matt Harvey sustained last summer pushed the entire organization's timetable back a full calendar year. This year had looked like it was going to be the season to begin their return to competitive play. Now it's next year. Such is life.
The Mets, however, have set themselves up nicely to make a quick return to competitive baseball once they are back to full strength. By the end of the 2014 season, they should have their full complement of their pitching prospects (Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero and Harvey) in the majors and healthy, ready to hit the ground running in 2015. That coupled with captain David Wright and off-season free agent acquisitions Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon give them a solid core from which they can build.
But they still have a number of question marks about a number of players who may or may not be a part of their future, not the least of which is about Wilmer Flores. Will he hit enough to play every day? Where will he play? And the million dollar question, will he hit enough to play the position his athletic limitations require him to play?
Flores has a strong track record as a minor league hitter, but it's no secret that his future value is directly linked (even more so than most prospects) to his future defensive position. Third base is his best option, but he's not playing that in Queens anytime soon. First base is his next best option, but he probably won't hit for enough power to play there every day, at least not if the Mets want him to be a first division regular. The Mets are trying him at second base but it's a stretch, even for a player who was signed as a shortstop.
So if second base is a stretch, why on Earth would the Mets consider using him at shortstop in the majors in 2014?
Because, what do they have to lose? More games?
I reiterate, the Mets are not going to be competitive in 2014, despite the signs they were trying to give their fans this off-season with the Granderson and Colon signings. The Mets know where they stand this season.
The main goal for the Mets in 2014 is to figure out what they have for 2015. Are Wheeler, Syndergaard and Montero starting pitchers or not? Is Ike Davis a first-division regular? What the hell is a Lucas Duda? And most importantly, what kind of major league hitter is Wilmer Flores?
He may stick at second base, he may play some first and third, he may even see some time in the corner outfield positions, but Wilmer Flores' future, whether in New York or somewhere else, is tied to his bat. The Mets badly need to see what kind of hitter he is at the major league level. The more he succeeds, the more defensive options they have. If he demonstrates more power than expected, they can play him at first base more often. If he struggles greatly, perhaps he's not an everyday player at any position. Regardless of the result, the Mets simply need to find out.
Barring a trade, the Mets infield is crowded. Wright is at third and Davis is still in town at first. Duda will see some time at first base too. Daniel Murphy is still a Met, clogging the avenue at second base and leaving little time for Flores to get into the lineup.
But at shortstop, there is an opening. Ruben Tejada sucks; I could sugar coat that better but there doesn't seem to be a need. It's a fact. Flores can't play shortstop at the major league level, at least not on a competitive team, but he has played the position. We're not talking about some extreme measure like putting a prospect in a position he's never played just to get him at-bats. Yes, he'll be below-average at the position, but so what? The Mets already know what they have in Tejada. Now they need to see if Flores can hit.
Should Flores play shortstop every day? Probably not. After all, this is a team that is probably going to use a young pitching staff that will need all the help it can get as well, but the Mets number one goal with Flores in 2014 needs to be to get him as many at-bats as possible. If that means playing shortstop 2-3 days a week and dealing with nine-hoppers getting through the hole, then so be it. For 2014, it's not going to matter anyway.
The Mets are clearly on a path for 2015, and the more they know about what they already have, the better prepared they will be when they get there. Flores is one of the biggest questions on the roster, and the fact that they are even considering using him at shortstop is a good sign that the Mets know where they stand and know where they are headed.