January 10, 2014

The Mets Shouldn't Rely On The 2015 Free Agent Shortstop Class

As the offseason comes to a close, the Mets still have a few questions to answer.  The question on most people's minds will be who gets the starting gig at shortstop.  The in-house option, Ruben Tejada, fell on tough times in 2013, finding himself in hot water with the Mets' front office and off the fanbase's radar.  The other semi-realistic option is Stephen Drew, who would represent a decent upgrade offensively from Tejada.  The issue with acquiring Drew's services remains an unwillingness to offer a contract longer than one year.

The reasoning for the Mets is likely two-fold.  First and foremost, Drew is coming off of his best year since 2010 and has regularly struggled to stay on the field since that time.  The other reason, which is probably the most significant of the two is that the shortstop free agent class next winter is theoretically loaded.  The important word there is theoretical, because just like this season, I struggle to find a way the Mets reel one of these guys in.  Here's why...

Hanley Ramirez is the pick of the litter next winter.  He seems to have overcome his 'me first' mentality in Los Angeles and is reportedly loved by the fans and teammates alike.  Therein lies the issue.  It is a very, very big if that Ramirez ever makes it to free agency.  The Dodgers seemingly have bottomless pockets, so they could sign him to an extension ahead of time and avoid the situation all together.  If he does opt to test the market, he will find the Yankees waiting with open arms and a bidding war will ensue between the Yankees and the Dodgers that will be so far above the Mets' head it will be comical.

J.J. Hardy is undoubtedly second on this list.  He hits for a relatively strong average and is an annual threat to hit 25 home runs.  The issue, like Hanley above, is that he may never hit the free agent market.  It has been rumored all winter that both he and the Orioles have mutual interest in signing an extension.  Even if it doesn't happen, are the Mets willing to fork over a contract well in excess of the 4 yrs/$53M that Jhonny Peralta landed this year?  They balked this winter, and despite the fact that Hardy is a better all around player is there any reason to think they won't do the same next year?

Yunel Escobar is the next promising shortstop we'll talk about be he too is unlikely to find his way onto the market, in my opinion.  From an offensive standpoint, Escobar is a far cry from both Hardy and Ramirez, but his contract contains a team option for 2015 to the tune of just $5 million dollars.  Thats the type of deal the Tampa Bay Rays just don't pass up.  Unless he complete bombs in 2014, Escobar won't be available next winter.

That leaves us with just Asdrubal Cabrera and Jed Lowie as the only two "premiere" shortstops to make it to the free agent market next winter.  From a power standpoint, each features 15 home run potential.  Cabrera has faired better when it comes to staying on the field, as Lowrie has played in 100 or more games just once in his career.  Simply put.. both represent a significant upgrade over Ruben Tejada going forward and may too be an offensive upgrade over Stephen Drew.  However again I'm left to question whether the Mets will be willing to pay the price.  Both could end up with qualifying offers and its likely each will cost far more in years and money than the Mets were prepared to pay this winter.

This isn't really an argument for or against signing Stephen Drew.  I just don't want to see the Mets lean on the idea of this group of free agents that may never materialize.  Its unlikely to think that the Mets will be the only team in the market and worth noting that they could be going up against the Yankees in any pursuit if Hanley Ramirez finds his way back to the Dodgers.  The Mets need a shortstop and any one of these guys fits the mold of what they're probably looking for, but I'll only believe it when I see it.

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