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The one where Wilmer Flores gets early-onset arthritis

The infielder struggled in 2018 before his season ended early due to injury.

MLB: Game One-Philadelphia Phillies at New York Mets Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a solid 2017, hopes were high for Wilmer Flores playing a key role for the 2018 Mets. With Dominic Smith ticketed for Triple-A after spring training and only the rotting corpse of Adrian Gonzalez in the way, Flores looked to be at minimum the right-handed side of a first base platoon. A Wilmer employed at first and occasionally around the infield or off the bench to predominantly mash lefties seemed like a useful piece for almost any team.

However, a number of mostly disappointing things happened on the way to Flores developing into more of a weapon. From 2015-2017, Flores recorded a .969 OPS over 324 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, against a far more pedestrian .667 OPS over 883 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers over the same period. Flores inexplicably flipped that script in 2018, improving to an .804 OPS and 121 wRC+ in 281 plate appearances vs. righties, but posting an anemic .610 and 68 in those categories—with only one of his 11 home runs—vs. lefties.

The result for Flores were average (.265) and on-base (.315) numbers in line with career norms, but a subpar .417 slugging percentage. When you combine Flores’s average 103 wRC+ with his negative baserunning and defensive numbers, you wind up with a 0.5 fWAR season over 428 plate appearances, and a missed opportunity to earn more playing time. As his playing time dwindled later in the season with the return of Jay Bruce to start playing first and the development of Jeff McNeil at second, Flores saw his season end abruptly on September 19 with the troubling diagnosis of early-onset arthritis in both knees.

On the bright side, Wilmer did continue to do one thing he does best in 2018—walk it off with style. Wilmer ended four 2018 games for the Mets, starting in happier times with a home run to beat the Brewers on April 15 and move the Mets to 12-2. Flores later added a game-ending sacrifice fly in May against Arizona and a tenth-inning walk-off single against the Pirates in June. Finally, with his game winning home run against the Phillies in game one of a doubleheader on July 9, Flores passed David Wright to become the team’s all-time leader with 10 walk-off hits.

Walk-offs aside, however, Wilmer did not produce as hoped when utilized in 2018. Coming off of a subpar season with a potentially chronic injury, and due for a raise on his $3.4 million 2018 salary in his final year of arbitration, it is not out of the realm of possibility Flores could be non-tendered this offseason. But even given his limited defensive skills and poor pre-arthritis baserunning, a place on the roster could and likely will be made for a young(ish) bat with some bounce-back potential. And that’s without even considering or, alright—at least partially considering—the significant emotional tug.