The Wilmer Flores Experiment Will Not Work
With as many slings and arrows as Ruben Tejada has received over the last two seasons from everyone from the New York Mets’ front office to us lowly columnists at Double G Sports, it is becoming more readily apparent each day that Tejada is still the most qualified shortstop on the Mets roster, and that the answer is not Wilmer Flores.
Flores, who was declared the Mets’ starting shortstop earlier in August until further notice, made a handful of competent plays at the position on the Mets’ last homestand, leading to a flurry of praise that probably wouldn’t have been showered upon an actual major league shortstop, which Wilmer Flores is not. The praise when Flores, who has a decent arm but no range or flexibility, makes a routine play without screwing it up is somewhat akin to the participation trophies that 6-year-old tee-ball players are awarded at the end of their first season.
Flores had a comically bad defensive game Friday night against the Dodgers, committing two fairly hideous errors it is fairly certain that Tejada would have never committed.
The book on Flores, who was originally a shortstop when he was signed as a teenager but who “outgrew” the position, is that he’s a talented offensive player more ideally suited to play a corner position, but who would better fill a need on this team by trying to play shortstop.
But here’s the thing: there’s been no evidence at the major league level that Flores is a good, or even an adequate, offensive player. Flores now has 153 plate appearances in the major leagues this season—a fairly representative sample size—and he has a .255 on-base percentage and a .286 slugging percentage. The notoriously powerless Tejada has a .279 slugging percentage, but at least Tejada gets on base: his .346 OBP is higher than that of either David Wright or leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson.
Ruben Tejada is a very similar player to the shortstop with whom the Mets won their last World Series, Rafael Santana. Like Tejada, Santana had no power, little speed and a reliable glove (and Santana didn’t have the ability to reach base that Tejada does). The difference is that those mid-’80s Mets teams could live with Santana as their number eight hitter in a loaded offensive lineup.
The fact that these Sandy Alderson era Mets lineups are so run-starved and offensively dysfunctional shouldn’t be blamed on a light-hitting shortstop. Although he played with an unmerited sense of entitlement last season, when he was disappointing defensively, too, the fact is that Tejada’s defense in 2014 has never been an issue. Tejada has made five errors all season, and his more advanced defensive metrics are all on the positive side.
It’s doubtful Flores’ defense will ever be adequate. And really, does any right-thinking baseball person really think a Mets pitching staff that already has to contend with Daniel Murphy’s creative approach to playing second base should also have to deal with Wilmer Flores alongside him at shortstop? Add in the defensively dreadful Travis d’Arnaud behind the plate, and that’s one horrendous defensive spine no matter how wondrous a fielder Juan Lagares is in center.
Wilmer Flores seems by all accounts to be a bright, hard-working and likeable young player. And the Mets have never seemed to care for Tejada or his approach to the game, for whatever reason. But they are no worse off than they would have been had they spent the big money they were urged to in pursuit of free agent Stephen Drew in the off-season, and they won’t be any better off trying to turn Wilmer Flores into something he’s not instead of just leaving Tejada—who is just 24 years old—at shortstop until a better option comes along.
And, incidentally, we’re not even so sure Troy Tulowitzki would be that “better option.” The Colorado Rockies shortstop for whom Mets fans understandably salivate is absolutely one of the most talented offensive and defensive shortstops anywhere in baseball—for the 30 days each season that he’s actually healthy.
Instead of looking for a shortstop to be that “big bat” the Mets desperately need, they should instead be trying to find some big bats to fill positions where offense is more of a priority than defense, not vice versa.
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