Third base is, by far, the most topical position to review for the Mets right now. With the team and David Wright trying to work out a long-term deal — 8 years, $140 million seems to be the basic framework — there could very well be an answer about the Mets' long-term third baseman in the coming days.
For now, though, Wright is under the Mets' control for 2013 at a salary of $16 million. After a very poor 2011, he bounced back and had an excellent 2012. If the Mets had been a contending team, he may have had at least a shot at the National League's Most Valuable Player award. WAR isn't the only statistic to consider, but Wright's 7.8 fWAR in 2012 trailed only four players in all of baseball: Mike Trout, Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, and Robinson Cano.
Most Likely Internal Candidate
It's pretty simple: If Wright signs an extension with the Mets, he's the only candidate for the job in 2013 and beyond. But if he doesn't sign and the Mets decide to trade him this winter, Daniel Murphy could move from second to third. He'd be less of a defensive concern at the position than he is at second base, but he's obviously not the hitter that Wright is.
Minor Leagues: Help on the Way?
If Wright's a goner this winter, during the 2013 season, or next winter, what might the Mets do? We once again turn to Rob Castellano for insight on the team's farm system:
Let’s pretend, just for this exercise, that the Mets and David Wright cannot agree on a contract extension and as such he is traded. Now what? 26-year-old Zach Lutz would get the first call. With a career .899 OPS at Triple-A, the 2007 fifth rounder has shown he can hit. In fact, I think it would become clear rather quickly that he’d be one of the top offensive options on the team. His glove skills likely won’t win any awards, but he’s certainly no butcher either. In short, I’ve always felt that the oft-injured slugger would run with such an opportunity, if one ever presented itself. Group Josh Satin into the same bucket of positionally blocked hitters, though with less bat and less experience at third base.
The next option is a familiar one. Wilmer Flores would be the organization’s long-term option of choice, likely just a strong couple of months from a big league gig. The 21-year-old possesses the kind of advanced bat that makes it easy to dream on a potent middle-of-the-order hitter in his prime and a productive member of a major league lineup much sooner. Again, defense is his sore spot as ultra-slow foot speed will minimize his range at any position — though not as critical an issue at third. Additionally, his soft hands and strong arm profile well at the position.
Finally, despite the presence of Flores in Binghamton, it was Jefry Marte that logged the most innings at third base for the B-Mets in 2012. The 22-year-old Marte doesn't possess nearly as developed a bat, however, and would likely only garner serious attention were Flores to flounder.
If the Mets don't sign Wright, trade him, and opt not to use Murphy, Lutz, Flores, or Marte at third base, the free-agent market this winter is bleak at best. Kevin Youkilis is probably the best option out there, and perhaps he could be signed at a discount because of his poor 2012 season. But entering his age-34 season, Youkilis wouldn't make sense for the Wright-less Mets on anything more than a one-year deal.
The rest of the names on the market aren't very appealing but could potentially fill the void until a younger player is ready: Placido Polanco, possibly-retired Scott Rolen, Eric Chavez, and Jeff Keppinger.
And if the Mets trade Wright, using an internal option or signing a free agent to a one-year deal seems far more appealing than trading for a third baseman from another team. If the Mets are going to trade assets for other players, they should be acquiring outfielders and catchers.
Best Option for 2013
It's Wright. I'll take the proven commodity on a long-term deal over any of the alternatives. While Wright would be nearing 40 by the end of the contract, there's certainly some value in keeping him with the team for the duration of his career. And he's a pretty good ballplayer, to boot.