NOTE (10:18 AM, July 25, 2015): This article was published well prior to the Mets acquiring Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson.
It’s tempting to write an article begging the New York Mets to make a big trade for a significant bat at the deadline. After all, adding one of Troy Tulowitzki, Justin Upton, Todd Frazier or Yasiel Puig would instantly address the team’s offensive problems.
But it’s pretty unlikely the Mets make such a deal. And as ESPN‘s Mark Simon astutely wrote about recently, it might not be wise for it to happen, either.
Instead, there’s a realistic alternative: the Mets could trade for platoon partners and generally helpful, but not “star”-caliber players without hemorrhaging the future.
David Wright’s season-long absence has been a storyline the Mets simply were not prepared for. But the team’s underachieving outfield has actually affected the team’s offense the most.
Curtis Granderson’s minus-4 wRC+ is the fourth-worst wRC+ against left-handed pitching in baseball. Juan Lagares has witnessed his moderate success against righties (.268 batting average with a 88 wRC+ in 2014) sink to unacceptable levels in 2015 (.248 batting average with a 61 wRC+). And Michael Cuddyer, who the Mets signed to a two-year, $21 million contract this past offseason, has been in a yearlong slump, posting a combined .250 batting average and 94 wRC+.
In an attempt to fix their outfield, the first trade the Mets should execute at the deadline is dealing Jon Niese to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Scott Van Slyke.
With all the injury blows to the Dodgers’ rotation, the first-place team has been publicly seeking trade help, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. Niese certainly isn’t an ace, but perhaps the cost of acquiring Johnny Cueto or Cole Hamels will be too high (i.e. young, major-league ready talent). Plus, despite what many Mets’ fans think of Niese, he’s still better than the “TBD” arms the Dodgers have been forced to roll out.
In 2015, Van Slyke has posted a park-adjusted 176 wRC+ as the right-handed hitting platoon with Andre Ethier in the Dodgers’ crowded outfield. Yet, even though the 28-year-old has owned left-handers, he also owns a stellar career 107 wRC+ against his own kind.
Inserting Van Slyke as either Granderson’s platoon partner or as a full-time experiment and replacement for Cuddyer would instantly improve the Mets’ offense. And since the Dodgers’ outfielder is pre-arbitration, the Mets would inherit team control through 2019.
From the Dodgers’ perspective, losing Van Slyke won’t hurt their offense as much as Niese will help improve their rotation. In Van Slyke’s place, the Dodgers could use other in-house right-handed hitting outfielders like Alex Guerrero and Darnell Sweeney.
And Niese’s $9 million commitment in 2016 — and similarly priced team options in 2017 and 2018 — would only be a moderate expense for the Dodgers’ $270-plus million payroll.
* = upon further review, the proposed top prospect in addition to Van Slyke was excessive speculation, and has been edited.
With Brandon Nimmo potentially major-league ready by 2016, Juan Lagares needed to hit well against right-handed pitchers this year to protect his future status as a full-time player.
That hasn’t been the case thus far, unfortunately.
Even though Lagares is a Gold Glove-caliber fielder and has hit a fruitful .286 with a 122 wRC+ against left-handed pitching this year, the 26-year-old has struggled mightily against righties. The right-handed hitter has posted a mere .248 with a 61 wRC+ against his own kind.
Considering the Mets own the fourth-worst batting average (.238) and fifth-worst wRC+ (87) against right-handed pitching this year, Lagares’ lackluster at-bats are deserving of blame.
Acquiring left-handed hitting Will Venable from the San Diego Padres would be the obvious move, as the Padres will likely sell off their free-agents-to-be. But Boston Red Sox’s Alejandro De Aza would be the cheaper alternative.
De Aza, whom the Baltimore Orioles designated-for-assignment back in late-May, has hit well for the Red Sox since joining them on June 3. As a left-handed hitting platoon (essentially with Mike Napoli), the 31-year-old has smacked around right-handers to the tune of a .288 batting average, six home runs, and a 127 wRC+.
Even though De Aza’s best glove work has been in left field (a career 6.7 UZR/150), he also has plenty of experience in centerfield (a career 0.6 UZR/150 over 2,621.1).
Swapping De Aza for Gee makes sense for the Red Sox given the rotation’s third-worst 4.78 ERA and middle-of-the-pack 5.8 fWAR. While Gee has struggled himself in 2015, earning a demotion to Triple-A in late-June, perhaps his promising peripherals (4.19 xFIP), respectable track record (career 4.03 ERA and 4.16 xFIP), and team control through 2016 make him a solid return for the free-agent-to-be De Aza.
It’s quite possible that the Houston Astros will make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. So why should they consider trading away Marwin Gonzalez, who is currently the right-handed hitting half of the Astros’ successful third base platoon?
Well, perhaps acquiring a historically superior lefty masher (Chris Johnson), a former first-round pick pitching well at Double-A (Michael Fulmer), and briefcase filled with $10 million would appeal to them.
Gonzalez, a natural shortstop, has done a wonderful job teaming with Luis Valbuena at third base this season. The 26-year-old is hitting .296 with four home runs, and a 123 wRC+ over 70 plate appearances against left-handers. Gonzalez has even contributed with his glove, fielding a 1 DRS and 14.3 UZR/150 over 89.2 innings at the hot corner.
But Johnson has been better. At least, over the course of his career.
Since 2009, Johnson owns a .314 batting average with 16 home runs and a 117 wRC+ over 680 career plate appearances against lefties. And despite just hitting .243 with a 68 wRC+ this season, the former-Astros farmhand is still getting the job done against southpaws: a .340 batting average and 127 wRC+.
While the 30-year-old’s contract is a bad one – he’ll earn about $20 million through 2017 – the proposed salary relief would slice the Astros’ financial responsibility in half.
Without losing a step at third base – plus adding Fulmer, who is finally healthy and tossing a 2.16 ERA at Binghamton – such a trade would simultaneously improve the Astros’ present and future. The Astros could also dangle Fulmer as part of a bigger package towards acquiring the frontline starting pitcher the team covets.
Swapping Johnson for Michael Cuddyer makes sense for the Braves for a variety of reasons, too – even if he is eventually DL’d with a bone bruise.
Despite hitting .250 with a 94 wRC+ this season, Cuddyer is just one year removed from a 1.4 fWAR season – and two years removed a 2.4 fWAR season. By comparison, Johnson has only been worth 3.2 fWAR over his entire career.
And while Cuddyer has hardly earned his $8.5 million salary in 2015 – and likely won’t earn his $12.5 million salary in 2016, either – his ceiling is still far higher than Chris Johnson’s, who is set to earn an average of $8.75 million over the next two seasons (including a $1 million buyout in 2017).
With Eury Perez’s unsustainable .360 BABIP likely to regress, Cuddyer poses as a massive upgrade in left field over a smattering of Perez and Jonny Gomes. Plus, if Cuddyer finds his stroke again, he could turn into a solid option for the Braves in 2016 or a rental piece for another team.
And lastly, the Mets installing Marwin Gonzalez as their starting shortstop would inch closer to solving a three-and-a-half-year void at the position. Gonzalez certainly isn’t Jose Reyes – but he does provide more pop than Ruben Tejada.
In addition to his success against left-handed pitching, Gonzalez can play multiple positions, and is technically a switch-hitter. Even though he’s only managed a .233 batting average and 72 wRC+ versus righties, he’s still hit a home run in 3.1 percent of his at-bats versus right-handed pitching in 2015. By comparison, Tejada’s career HR/AB versus his weaker split sits at a mere 0.5 percent.