Last week the question of trading Mets top prospect Wilmer Flores was once again discussed here in the comments of another recent Flores story. Specifically, reader MDMETSFAN asked, "Could the Mets possibly trade him for an outfield prospect of similar ranking? If so, any ideas on who that would be?"
It's a good question, and it's worth delving into a bit for a few reasons. First off, after batting a resurgent .311 with an .855 OPS in his first run at Double-A in 2012, the 21-year-old Flores clearly declared that he's almost here. His current .857 OPS in the Venezuelan Winter League doesn't hurt, either. It's not unrealistic to suppose he'll be ready to help the Mets at some point in 2013 — maybe before September.
As has always been the case with Flores, however, his defensive value is less than ideal. He never morphed into the shortstop we hoped he'd become a few years back. He's passable at third base, though, so the idea that he'll only survive at first base or DH isn't accurate.
Yet, with the assumption that David Wright is on the precipice of a long-term deal that keeps him manning third at Citi Field for years to come, Flores doesn't quite fit. First base is obviously locked up pretty well, too, and with Flores's footspeed — or lack thereof — the outfield is out of the question. There's the idea of shoehorning him into second base, though he'd be a cross-your-fingers project on par with Daniel Murphy this past season, if not worse.
That leaves us with the idea broached in the question. Perhaps the Mets' most glaring weakness right now is in the outfield. You could deal Flores for a veteran-type, but that doesn't really jibe with the current regime's long-term view. So is it not a more efficient use of assets to see if Flores might equate to an equally promising young prospect who might also address that weakness?
For the reasons we've just discussed, it makes at least some sense from the Mets' point of view. But what about the other side of the transaction? Well, frankly, it would be a tough sell. That's because even if you could find someone rich in outfield depth, looking for infield support, it's not as if Flores is a slam dunk at any particular infield position.
But just for the sake of discussion, let's say you've found some teams willing to bite on the idea of Flores as an offense-first, long-term answer at third base. You're now looking for another strong young hitter — make that outfielder — who is nearly major league-ready and is valued roughly on the level of Flores. John Sickels placed Flores firmly within his latest top 100 prospects at number 76. So who are the players that the Mets should target?
- Right off the bat, I'd call up Billy Beane. It's no secret that Oakland has been hoarding outfielders over the past twelve months, and that depth doesn't stop at the major league level. What's more, they boast no strong internal candidate at third. So based on the Mets' drastic need for right-handed power, I’d ask about Michael Choice. The 2010 first rounder — taken three picks after Matt Harvey — has been one of the best pure power-hitters in the minors. Like Flores, he made his Double-A debut in 2011, and while the power was a little underwhelming, he posted strong numbers (.287/.356/.423) before a broken hand ended his season. He's a classic corner outfield guy who features solid walk rates but doesn't demonstrate Flores's innate contact ability. The Mets would also be giving up over a year in age/development time here.
- Grant Green is another interesting name from the Oakland system who boasts a broader skill-set than Choice. The former infielder is now manning center field and features a strong power/speed mix. He batted .296 with 15 homers and 13 stolen basis in Triple-A in 2012. He's a lot like a right-handed Kirk Nieuwenhuis, however, in that he does a lot of things well but nothing great. Many have questions about whether he can handle center in the majors, and, if he doesn't, whether he has enough bat to fit into a corner. The Mets are giving up over three years here — he's currently known as 'old guy' in the Arizona Fall League — and Flores pretty clearly being the better pure hitter, it's not as great a fit.
- Sticking with Oakland, former Phillies top prospect Michael Taylor is an intriguing name that features a profile between both Choice and Green. He's another corner guy, but he's got good speed on the basepaths. Batting .287/405/.441 in Triple-A in 2012, he also features very strong walk rates and contact skills. But Taylor will be 26 next season, and after looking primed for a breakout, he has stalled at the upper levels. He likely is not commensurate value for Flores.
- Moving across the AL West, Leonys Martin is an outfield prospect that Sickels placed four slots ahead of Flores. The Rangers signed the 24-year-old Cuban defector for five years, $15 million back in 2011. The athletic lefty-hitting center fielder just batted .359 in his debut at Triple-A and boasts solid plate discipline, though some people question his long-term home run power. Even so, his defensive ability could make him very valuable in any case, in the mold of a Shane Victorino. This likely isn't a perfect fit because of the attached dollar value as well as the fact that with Josh Hamilton potentially on the way out, the Rangers seem more stocked in the infield anyway. I'd hope that the large discrepancy in age would help balance the equation and perhaps the fact that a very poor major league debut has prematurely soured some — a la Anthony Rizzo.
- San Diego's Rymer Liriano might be the best match available in terms of age, profile, and skill set. Not two months older than Flores, Liriano had a similar 2012 where he mastered High-A before a strong showing in Double-A. Despite solid walk rates, the Padres' top prospect doesn't have quite Flores's polish, yet he makes up for it with far superior athleticism. He profiles as a strong right fielder with good speed on the basepaths (32 stolen bases in '12), and though his power isn't quite developed (8 home runs in '12), his excellent strength and bat speed portend for lots more as he fills out. Though the Padres have a top shelf third baseman, there's every chance Chase Headley is traded before Spring Training. Currently, Liriano is batting .330 with three homers in the Arizona Fall League.
- If San Francisco signs up Angel Pagan long-term, I'd check and see if they’d be willing to talk about Gary Brown. A year ago he was being weighed against Zack Wheeler as the Mets' return for Carlos Beltran. Now, coming off a down year, the 2010 first-rounder's value isn't quite as high. However, the 24-year-old posted a solid, if unspectacular, .279/.347/.385 line in his Double-A debut. Though his power at the highest levels is becoming more of a concern, his plus speed and defense in center certainly help. Though he clearly doesn't possess a bat as potent as Flores's, the hope with Brown is that you've found an impact player up the middle who can slot in the leadoff spot for years to come. Obviously there's no opening at third in San Francisco, but first base isn't set in stone. Brown is currently batting .330 with zero homers and 10 stolen bases in the AFL.