While Matt Harvey’s Tommy John surgery has Mets fans looking ahead to 2015 for the next signs of competitive postseason baseball, fantasy owners needn’t wait so long, at least so far as New York’s infield is concerned. With a near-elite option holding down the hot corner and a couple of intriguing upside artists elsewhere, the Mets offer help at some typically hard-to-fill fantasy positions – at prices that may be bargains come draft day.
The discussion, as usual, begins with David Wright, the face of the franchise and the team’s best position player. Although he’s no longer the five-category, first-round monster he was in the closing years of the Bush administration, Wright still delivers enough at a typically shallow position to rank just outside third base Studsville, having delivered a .307/.390/.514 slash line with a .391 wOBA last year. Regrettably, those numbers were crammed into less than 500 plate appearances, as a right hamstring injury zapped more than a month and a half and limited him to 18 homers, 58 RBIs and 17 steals. Yes, it’s been four years since Wright approached 30 homers and crossed the 100 RBI threshold, and if you’re concerned about injuries for the 31-year-old – he has, it must be said, averaged just 123 games over the past three seasons – that’s understandable. But on draft day, the third base options after Wright lack Captain America’s upside or ability to spread production up and down a 5×5 sheet.
That brings us to Ruben Tejada, currently the team’s likely shortstop unless a deal is swung to import an actual major league hitter. Although he posted a .289 average in 501 plate appearances in 2012, that was due to the largesse of a .339 BABIP and didn’t mask the fact that Tejada didn’t help in anything else resembling a fantasy category. Fast-forward to 2013, when an out-of-shape Tejada flopped so badly that he was demoted to the minors for half the season before being called up in September, only to suffer a broken leg. Recent reports suggest Tejada has a new outlook on his work ethic, which is fine, but doesn’t change the fact that the Mets offer little romance in the shortstop department.
Wilmer Flores, long considered one of the team’s best position prospects, is getting work at shortstop, and though scouts believe his lack of range precludes him from emerging as a major league regular there – and his bat didn’t exactly set the National League ablaze in just over 100 plate appearances last year – he’d immediately become an intriguing option were he to magically win a starting job.
Daniel Murphy, meanwhile, broke out as a solid fantasy second baseman last year, posting career highs in home runs (13), runs (92), RBIs (78) and steals (23), along with a solid .286 average. An allergy to walks keeps his OBP from reaching its potential given Murphy’s characteristically lethal line drive bat, but then again, that didn’t prevent him from finishing fourth among fantasy second basemen last year. Steamer and Oliver are both bearish on Murphy, expecting drops in the power and runs departments that would push him to the outskirts of the position’s top 10. But he doesn’t turn 29 until April, and while a return to 2013 levels would seem a bit optimistic, there’s reason to believe Murphy is a legit discount option with significant multi-category upside come draft day.
At first, Davis and Duda enter spring training in a potential duel to win the job, unless, of course, the Mets are able to deal one of them before the season starts. Both have significant power potential – Davis is just two years removed from a 32-homer, 90-RBI campaign – but also endured miserable seasons last year in which they were demoted to the minors. In part because Duda can (poorly) play the outfield, Davis is the team’s preference to win the job, and they hope he can build on the .267/.429/.443 slash line he compiled in the two months after he was recalled. But he only tallied four homers during that period, and overall, his batted ball distance last year plummeted 28 feet from its 2012 level, which pulled down his HR/FB ratio to 11.8 percent, well below his career norm. Oliver and the fans expect a return to form for Davis as he enters his age-27 season, forecasting about 20 homers and 70 RBIs – but such results are heavily dependent on Davis regaining his confidence after a terrible 2013 and a winter full of trade speculation.
If Duda can find everyday at-bats, he’ll bring an ability to draw walks and hit home runs to the fantasy table as an eligible first baseman … but that’s about it. He did hit 15 bombs in less than 400 plate appearances last year, but 13 of those were solo shots, and he was especially abysmal with runners in scoring position, hitting just .145. His role for 2014 is currently unclear: manager Terry Collins has suggested a possible platoon role for him in the outfield, where he’d essentially hold down the slot left open by the offseason acquisitions of Granderson and Chris Young, and a move down to Triple-A or a bench role are not impossible. But if Davis falls apart, Duda would be the most likely candidate to take over at first.
Lastly, deep-leaguers and streamers shouldn’t ignore the possibility of Josh Satin rounding out a platoon role at first base. He put up some nice results in limited playing time last year, compiling a 124 wRC+ in 221 plate appearances with an .880 OPS against left-handers.
Rounding out the infield is Travis d’Arnaud, who, if he can stay healthy, is looking to put in his first full season. A major prize in the R.A. Dickey trade a year ago and considered one of the majors’ best catching prospects, d’Arnaud has quickly developed a reputation for getting hurt, including last year, when a broken foot delayed his big league debut until mid-August. When he arrived at The Show, d’Arnaud struggled with a .254 wOBA in 31 games, and he’s still raw, having just turned 25 years old. But he’s clearly the future and management is impressed with his ability to handle the team’s young pitching staff, so you’ll see his name penciled into the lineup every day – provided, again, he stays healthy.
Karl, a journalist living in Washington, D.C., learned about life's disappointments by following the Mets beginning at a young age. His work has appeared in numerous publications, and he has contributed to the 2014 and 2015 editions of The Hardball Times Annual. Follow/harass him on Twitter @Karl_de_Vries.