The Mets will have a drastic new look on the infield this upcoming season with the additions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. With the departure of longtime Met favorite Daniel Murphy, and having Ruben Tejada, as well as Wilmer Flores solidifying a strong bench, it will be interesting to see how much better this bunch can be.
There is also the Captain David Wright entrenched at third base, and one can only wonder how his health will play out this season after being diagnosed with spinal stenosis last season. Lucas Duda will be counted upon to bring power from the left side of the plate more consistently this season with Cespedes returning and the Mets having a deeper lineup surrounding him. Overall the infielders look solid offensively. Defensively the Mets should be a little bit better up the middle with Walker and Cabrera as the full-time starters. I believe Collins uses the same approach he used last season when determining playing time with this group. Whoever has the hot bat and is hitting on a consistent basis will see the most playing time. It worked last season after the Mets acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, and I believe that same approach could work again with this deep group.
Duda had a monster 2014 campaign and came into last season with sky-high expectations. Duda’s season started great as he was seeing the ball well in both April and May. Duda had an average of .325 in the month of April, and hit 7 home runs in May with an average of .276 that month. Duda struggled tremendously during the dog days of summer in June and July, as he had averages of .178 and .187 during those two months. With the Mets having the worst offense in baseball during that time, I figured Duda was trying to do too much and put too much pressure on himself offensively. However after the addition of Cespedes, Johnson, and Uribe, Duda’s numbers seemed to pick up the last couple of months of the season. Having d’Arnaud and Wright return from injury also helped lengthen that lineup and gave Duda better pitches to hit. Duda also has improved hitting left-handed pitching as he hit .285 against lefties, and had a higher SLG% against lefties compared to facing right-handed pitching. With a deeper lineup, I believe Duda can have a season similar to his breakout 2014 campaign. Duda will not hit for a high average, as that is not the type of player he is. I believe it is not unreasonable to expect him to hit around .245 with 30-35 HR’S, and 90-100 RBI in the middle of that Mets lineup.
David Wright’s 2015 season got off to a nightmare start after injuring his back sliding into 2nd base in April. What many believed to be a 2-week injury turned into a 5-month injury after being diagnosed with spinal stenosis. The Mets and Wright both didn’t even know if he would ever play baseball again. All was soon forgotten when Wright made his return in August and did nothing but hit the cover off of the ball the rest of the season. It is hard to see Wright playing more than 130 games this season, as the Mets will closely monitor his health. The Mets also have the luxury of having Wilmer Flores, a former 3rd basemen in the minors, as a back up. Wright still had shown last season that he could hit and field his position the same way he had done pre-injury. I am excited to see how Wright’s offensive numbers will translate this season in the deepest Mets lineup in my opinion since 2006. I believe if Wright stays healthy he can hit around .270, with 15-18 home runs and around 75 RBI.
Neil Walker was acquired back in December in a trade for former Met Jon Niese. After Walker was acquired it all but signaled the end of the Daniel Murphy era. Walker is a switch-hitter who brings a different dynamic to the Mets lineup. It will be interesting to see where Collins will have Walker hit in the lineup. Walker has had success hitting in the 2-hole (.293 Avg) and the 3-hole (.353), but with Wright and Cespedes hitting in those spots, he will have to adjust to hitting lower in the lineup. Walker is not known for his power as he only hit more than 16 home runs in a season once back in 2014, when he hit 23. Walker has been a productive hitter for Pittsburgh with a career batting line of .272/.338/.431. Walker has not been productive against left-handed pitching as last year he hit only .237, and that may be an area Collins will look to shore up with his deep bench of infielders. Walker is also clutch when it matters as he hit .275 with RISP and had a .493 SLG %. Walker is entering a contract year and after having a bad taste left in his mouth from Pittsburgh trading him, I believe he will have motivation for a breakout year similar to 2014. Walker also is slightly better defensively up the middle in comparison to Murphy, which is why I believe the Mets made this move to begin with. If Walker can hit .272 with 16-18 home runs, provide solid defense, and drive in 80 runs the Mets will be satisfied with their trade.
When the Mets initially signed Cabrera I was shocked, as I didn’t think they were in the market for a shortstop at the time. I believe Cabrera could be considered an upgrade on Tejada and Flores both defensively and offensively as a full-time starter. Cabrera like Walker is a switch-hitter, but unlike Walker had hit well against left-handed pitching last season. Cabrera had a line of .281/.300/.425 against lefties. With the bat I thought Cabrera was pretty average last season until he got red hot towards August and September, where he hit for an average of both .356 and .293 respectively. An area of concern is Cabrera struggled mightily with runners in scoring position, hitting a lowly average .203. You can expect Cabrera to hit at the bottom of the lineup, possibly in the 8–hole. Cabrera won’t be relied on as heavily for his bat, but more for shoring up the defense up the middle. Cabrera was ranked 11th in the Majors last season in terms of fielding %. Flores or Tejada weren’t anywhere near the top 20. That is where I believe Cabrera’s impact will most be felt.
Wilmer Flores will forever be near and dear to Mets hearts after that fateful night on July 29, 2015, where Flores thought he had been traded to Milwaukee. Instead of Flores being disgruntled after how the how situation unfolded, the Mets seemed to rally around Flores, and Flores played his heart out the rest of the season for this team. Flores struggled mightily defensively at the beginning of the season but seemed to improve as the season went on. Flores will be thrust into a super-utility role that Daniel Murphy used to play for this team. It will be interesting to see if his bat suffers with all of the different positions he will be expected to play this season. Flores has Major League experience at third base, shortstop, and second base. He has played a little first base in the Minor Leagues, and it will be something to watch in Spring Training to see how he adjusts to his new role. Flores will be one of the strongest bats off of the Mets bench and I hope his bat doesn’t suffer due to all the moving around the infield. Flores has the potential to be a .270 hitter who can hit around 20 HR’S and drive in 70 runs. Those numbers would be based off of the amount of playing time and of course him adjusting to his new role. Look for Flores to be utilized against left-handed pitchers and possibly platoon with Walker at 2nd base. Flores hit a line of .310/.355/.600 against southpaws last year.
Tejada will be returning from a gruesome injury he suffered at the hands of Chase Utley last postseason. Tejada is expected to be ready to go when Spring Training begins which is good news. Terry Collins had also stated that Tejada came into camp in the best shape he has seen in four years. That is saying a lot compared to how Tejada’s work ethic and conditioning seemed to always be questioned coming into Spring Training. Tejada will be relegated to a bench role this season, similar to Wilmer Flores. Last season Tejada had been relegated to the bench, until his bat began to heat up and he replaced Flores in the lineup for a portion of the season. It’s tough to project what Tejada’s 2016 numbers offensively might look like, but he provides solid defense and is a great option for a late-inning defensive replacement for the Mets. Interesting fact, Tejada loves hitting with the bases loaded. Tejada had a line of .400/.333/.800, with 8 RBI’s in five at-bats.