In short, I don’t know. In long:
Wilmer Flores will someday hit like a Major Leaguer. Of that we can be somewhat confident, or at least as confident as we ever can be when dealing with 21-year-old prospects. Flores’ .855 OPS after his promotion to Double-A Binghamton ranked him 11th in the Eastern League in the stat, and — perhaps more importantly — he was the youngest player in the top 25. (The only younger player in the league’s Top 50, Manny Machado, wound up playing an important role in the Orioles’ unlikely postseason run.)
Though I try not to put too much stock in the subjective determinations of human scouts (important though they are), pretty much every informed observer you will ever talk to or hear from loves Flores’ swing. And if you see him connect with a pitch, it’s easy to see why: In one swift, seemingly effortless gust, his weight shifts forward, his hands rocket through the zone and the ball explodes off his bat. It’s especially impressive when juxtaposed with how awkward the gawky 21-year-old can look elsewhere on the field.
Therein lies the issue: Until this season, Flores exclusively played shortstop even though no one ever really seemed to think he’d stick at the position. In 2012, he played 87 games at third base, 27 games at second and seven at first. At Baseball America, J.J. Cooper suggested his limited range at third base could be an issue moving forward, which certainly does not bode well for his range at second base. And given Flores’ lack of footspeed, no one seems to think he’ll ever be able to handle the outfield (though, for what it’s worth, someone somewhere seemed to think Lucas Duda could).
The Mets currently have the best position player in franchise history at third base, and by most accounts they’re trying to lock David Wright up to a long-term extension. At first base, they have “Smirnoff” Ike Davis, a steady defender and one of their few big home-run threats, a young and at least capable Major League regular under team control through arbitration for the next four seasons.
So what’s do be done with Wilmer Flores? The Mets have a few options:
Trade Wright or Davis to make room: Whoa, whoa, whoa, cowboy. Wright and Davis are the Mets’ two best hitters. And though Flores appears plenty impressive for a guy his age, it’s far from a lock that he’ll ever match their offensive output. No player anywhere in the Mets’ system is likely to outproduce Wright anytime soon, and no player set for free agency anywhere on the horizon appears to match the Mets’ needs as well as Wright does. So if they have the money to spend on Wright that they claim to have, it’s likely best spent extending him. It depends on the deal, of course, for both contract extensions and potential trades. But the idea of trading a player on a Hall of Fame trajectory in the late part of his prime to make room for one with 66 games’ worth of experience above A-ball is silly. I hope you don’t need me to remind you of that, but I understand that we let our minds run buck wild sometimes when we think about prospects.
Though Davis’ contract status and home-run power make him a valuable commodity to the Mets, they would also make him a valuable commodity to any acquiring team. And the Mets have, in Duda, a lesser but — despite his struggles this season — likely adequate replacement. Actually — and I didn’t set out to make this argument — if the Mets could net a young, cost-controlled everyday outfielder in return for Davis, they might be best served with Duda at first and Flores waiting in the wings than with Davis at first and Duda rendered significantly less valuable by his inadequacy in the outfield.
If you look at the largest samples available, Davis has been a better hitter than Duda but not a way better hitter, plus he’s a year younger and a better fielder at first base. But the Mets might be able to make up for more than those differences by moving Davis for an upgrade elsewhere. To boot, it clears up the first-base logjam, allowing the club to further assess Duda’s bat without suffering his outfield defense while Flores irons out the kinks in Triple-A. Again, it always depends on the deal. And since this site appreciates Davis’ moonshots, it’s not an idea I’m ready to endorse. But I’d put it down for not the worst idea ever.
Trade Flores for another prospect or in a package for an everyday outfielder: I’ll be honest, I just don’t know nearly enough about what will be available and what Flores could bring back in a trade to say whether this works or not. (Depends on the deal, depends on the deal, etc.) I will say that the Mets, as currently constructed, should not often be in the business of trading away talented young position players even if it’s not clear they have a position.
Just keep doing what they’re doing: For as long as we’ve been hearing about Flores and for all the early reports of his winter ball dominance, he’s still likely not ready to contribute to the Major League club yet. His Double-A line translates to a .653 OPS in the Majors. He’s improving, and hopefully he’s improving rapidly. But plenty can happen before Flores reaches the Majors, so the Mets seem best served by staying the course with Flores, using him all over the infield and letting him force his way through their system. Maybe he quiets his doubters and proves capable at second base. If he destroys Pacific Coast League pitching in 2013, the Mets have a good problem on their hands. In baseball, with all its streaks and slumps and injuries, those have a way of working themselves out.
The past 1,000 words have meant nothing. Carry on.