With the trade deadline approaching, the chatter about how the New York Mets will improve their sometimes-anemic offense is destined to pick up. These questions are more than fair as the Mets’ offense has been poor this season, ranking in the lower half of Major League Baseball in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, strikeout rate, and wRC+.
Clearly, the offense needs improvement, and for the first time in a long time the Mets have the prospects and pitching depth to facilitate a potential trade. But the team doesn’t have many positions they can or should upgrade. Of the Mets’ eight starting position players, just two positions seem ripe for an upgrade. Let’s take a look at all of the positions, though, to see where the Mets can improve.
Catcher: While Travis d’Arnaud has struggled this season, even earning a demotion to Triple-A, his potential and performance since his return make a change at the position incredibly unlikely.
First base: With his recent surge, Lucas Duda’s ISO, OPS, wRC+, and wOBA are all in the top half of first baseman across MLB, earning him some equity.
Second base: The Mets may trade Daniel Murphy, but if they do, it won’t be to upgrade the position. Only five second baseman have a higher fWAR than he does his season.
Third base: David Wright. Enough said.
Shortstop: While Ruben Tejada has been getting on base at a decent clip, shortstop is clearly a position that can be upgraded.
Left field: None of the left field options—Chris Young in particular—are anything better than replacement level.
Center field: Juan Lagares is already an elite defender, and if he can hit even .275/.330/.400, he is a very good player.
Right field: One of the Mets’ best hitters over the last couple of months, Granderson is in the first year of his four-year deal and doesn’t figure to go anywhere.
Sure, the Mets could try to improve the right side of the infield, but doing so would cost a lot of assets and likely result in only minimal upgrades over Duda or Murphy. This really only leaves shortstop and one outfield spot as the Mets’ flexibility to improve their offense is limited.
Trading for a shortstop has seemed to be at the top of the Mets’ wish list for a while now, but the names which have been thrown around in recent months—Didi Gregorius, Nick Franklin, and Brad Miller —would probably require a strong return in a trade and wouldn’t give the team the impact bat they need. Aside from Troy Tulowitzki and maybe Starlin Castro, what shortstop would warrant the return necessary?
While shortstop is a clear opening, the Mets’ best bet to add a quality hitter is by way of the third outfield spot. Since getting the first chance at filling the left field hole and struggling, Chris Young has been teamed with an assortment of pieces to fill the spot, none of which have been overly effective or are adequate long-term options. This position is in need of a consistent and high-level contributor, but the question becomes who can adequately plug this hole and is also available.
It will be interesting to see if any big name outfielders hit the trade market this summer or winter, as this season’s free agent class is relatively weak, and it’s unlike general manager Sandy Alderson to sign major free agent deals. It seems likely that Alderson is going to have to be creative in the trade market.
Additionally, since the Mets don’t have the luxury of improving at multiple positions, any singular move they make will have to be for a significant player. For obvious reasons, however, teams are hesitant and picky about trading high-quality players, merely complicating the quandary Alderson and the front office find themselves in.
If the Mets are to improve on offense, they are going to have to confront the obstacles they face in acquiring the talent they sorely need. If or how the team upgrades the offense in the face of limitations is something to watch this summer and into the offseason.