Esposito: Spring Thinking From The Gut

Ever have a gut feeling about something, and you’re not exactly sure why you feel that way, but you’ve got a strong feeling about it?

Well, here we are, at the dawn of another spring training, on the eve of another spring of hope and renewal, for all baseball fans, really, but in this little corner of the universe, Mets fans are still wondering:


Mets GM Sandy Alderson appears entrenched at jamming the evermore “prospect” Wilmer Flores into the six hole. He resisted making a trade for one at the GM meetings, at the Winter Meetings, and anytime since, despite a near record number of players moving from franchise to franchise like a real-life fantasy game draft board.

Of course, he did come close to pulling off a humdinger of a deal which would have moved Washington’s Ian Desmond to New York, and that would have been a welcomed addition, but personally, I’m glad Sandy didn’t pull the trigger on that one. The trade would have cost the highly regarded Noah Syndergaard-plus, but it would have been for just a one-year rental. Desmond would become a free agent at the end of the year, and you already know the Mets are not exactly near the top of the list anymore when it comes to free agents seeking long-term big-bucks contracts.

The latest most desirable shortstop to be floated is Cuban import Yoan Moncada. Only 20 and expected to be the next big thing after the success of Cubans such as Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Yoenis Cespedes, Aroldis Chapman, et al, but there are about a dozen teams salivating at the thought of adding Moncada, and none of those names rhyme with that basketball team in Brooklyn, or that pro football team in the green uniforms that shares Met Life Stadium with the Giants.

And you can forget about a trade for Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. Sure, great shortstop, great hitter, a Jeter-wanna be – WHEN HEALTHY!!! – but he makes a ton of money, will be getting a ton of money more between now and the next 5-6 years or so, so he’s already got two strikes against him from a GM point of view before making that consideration.

Sadly, that “small market team” called the Mets always appears to be more budget conscious than most franchises.

On one hand, you can’t blame them, after what they’ve been through with the Madoff mess, but more importantly, after all of the stupid financial decisions they’ve made in the past decade or so. (see Castillo, Luis, or Bay, Jason)

Actually, every time the Bay signing comes up, remember there were two big outfielder free agents that winter, Bay and Matt Holliday. The Cardinals signed Holliday for seven years and $120 mil. The Mets got a “bargain” on Bay at just four years and $66 million. Let’s see, now who got the better deal?

Holliday batted .272 last year, 20 homers, 90 RBIs, 37 doubles, 83 runs scored, and the Cardinals were once again in the NLCS. Bay spent last summer doing whatever rich former ballplayers do when retired.

But we digress.

Getting back to the shortstop auditions this spring, the Mets also passed on a player who would not have cost any prospects or current players, and might just be the next big thing for another National League franchise.

Tell me I’m wrong a year from now, but allow me to state now that the Mets should have signed the Korean shortstop, Jung ho Kang.

The Pirates smartly signed Kang to a four-year deal for just $11 million, which also includes a team option at $5.5 mil for the fifth year, or a $1 million buyout, which could bring the overall deal to over $16 mil. And that was after issuing a posting fee to the Nexen Heroes, Kang’s team in the Korean Baseball Organization (the KBO) at the very clever figure of $5,002,015.00.

So what did the Buccos get? They got a 27-year-old shortstop (a four-time Gold Glove shortstop in the KBO, by the way) who hit .356 last year, with 36 doubles, 40 home runs, and 117 RBIs, .739 Slugging, 1.198 OPS, .459 on-base, and 309 total bases.

Helllllooooo, Sandy? Even this you could not afford?

Critics and maybe even a scout or two might say, well, this was in the KBO, so who knows what he could do in the majors?

So, yes this is sight unseen, looking at stats and reported information, but four Gold Gloves tell me he knows how to play shortstop – in any league beyond Williamsport – and .356 (.298 in nine season in the KBO) shows batting skills which should translate to at least 80% of that in the majors, maybe better. And 40 home runs is, well, 40 home runs. Even if the fences in the KBO are not Grand Canyon-esque, the kid’s got power. That might translate to at least 15-20 homers in the majors, minimum, and that would be, as Larry David liked to say on Curb Your Enthusiasm, “pretty, pretty, pretty, good.”

And all of that would be better than Flores’ .251 last year in 78 games, with 6 homers and 29 RBIs. Flores had a good September (.267, 4, 13), arguably against call-ups and guys playing out the season, so there is always that potential word floating around. Flores is just 23, yes, and could get better, but he has already been in the Mets system seven years. SEVEN! How long does potential take to develop?

It’s not like he’s a lefthanded pitcher!

So if I was calling the shots, yes, I would have signed Kang.

But it’s too late now, and we’ll just have to see if the Pirates pulled a fast one on the rest of the sport. So in lieu of all the choices available – Flores, Ruben Tejada, Wilfredo Tovar, or even the thought of converting second base prospect Dilson Herrera to short (nah…), I have a gut feeling about who will be the Mets shortstop by the end of the season – Matt Reynolds.

Based on not much more than stats and some of the praise passed along by some of his teammates and managers (just ask Wally Backman), Reynolds appears to be on the fast track to Citi Field, and if he shows some of the same potential down here in Port St. Lucie, I might just want to give him the job from Day One. If he’s ready, he’s ready, despite any concerns about future contract status. Super Two this, Sandy!

Last summer in Double-A, for the Binghamton Mets, Reynolds batted .355 in 58 games, with one home run, 21 RBIs, 29 walks, and 75 hits. He struck out 41 times, but these days, doesn’t everyone ring up a lot of Ks. His on-base was .430, .422 slugging and an OPS of .852. When he was promoted to Triple A, Reynolds batted .333 for the Las Vegas 51s in 68 games, with five homers, 40 ribbies, 16 doubles, 21 walks and fanned 60 times.

The catch with bringing him up right away, other than contractual obligations? Reynolds, as of this date, is not even on the 40-man roster, so changes would have to be made to make that transaction. Officially, going into this week, he’s a non-roster invitee to camp. But six weeks of spring training has a way of forcing changes. Maybe a trade, or injury (perish the thought) or just the good ol’ lack of effectiveness by some players can necessitate those changes.

Many Mets decisions will soon shake out – the rotation, bullpen, backup outfielders, and what to do about the shortstop position. Mr. Flores is a very nice young man, really, and we wish him the best, with much success (start slugging, Wilmer!), but the knock has always been a lack of range, and he doesn’t appear any closer to being major-league capable with the stick as hoped, so if that’s the case, let’s put a wrap on Reynolds.

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