When it looked like the winter meetings would be a ho hum experience for the Mets, things suddenly changed for the Mets.
The Mets had targeted Ben Zobrist as there must get guy to become their new second baseman. After losing out on Zobrist, it seemed the Mets had no plan B. It became clear that their playoff hero, second baseman Daniel Murphy, was no longer in their plans and they would rely on Dilson Herrera, their 21-year-old prospect, to man second base. But on the day before the meetings would end, things changed dramatically for the best. First, the Mets shipped pitcher Jon Niese to the Pirates in exchange for second baseman Neil Walker. In just 24 hours the disappointment in losing out on Zobrist was replaced with the excitement of getting Walker. Hours later, they celebrated again after they signed free-agent Asdrubal Cabrera. Yes, the Mets have a new middle infield.
But where does this leave the Mets middle infield? The answer is in very good shape. Offensively, the combination of the new shortstop Cabrera with the new second baseman Walker are at least as good as the 2015 combination of Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy. The 30-year-old Walker for his seven years with the Pirates had a career .272 batting average along with a career .769 on-base-plus slugging average (OPS), averaging more than 15 home runs a year since 2010. The 30-year-old Cabrera has a .267 career batting average and a .740 OPS in nine seasons averaging over 16 homers a year. He also was a two-time All-Star.
In 2015, Murphy batted .281 with an OPS of .770 and 14 home runs. Walker in 2015 batted .269 with an OPS of .756 and 16 home runs. In 2015. Flores batted .263 with an OPS of .703 and 16 home runs. In 2015, Cabrera batted .265 with an OPS of .744 and 15 home runs. Where the Mets really improve is in fielding, base-running, and experience. Murphy is known to be a poor fielder and poor base-runner. Walker is much better in both categories. Flores has been converted into a shortstop and has limited experience at the position. Cabrera, a converted shortstop, did very well defensively as a second baseman. Considering the combination of offense, defense, and experience, Walker and Cabrera are an upgrade to Flores and Murphy.
The history of failure to get a player followed by success in getting a better player has just repeated for the Mets. In July, they thought they had signed All-Star Carlos Gomez, only to end the deal at the last moment because of health issues with Gomez. Days later, with their season in danger of slipping away, they wound up signing Yoenis Cespedes, whose bat was a major reason for them making the playoffs, leading them to their appearance in the 2015 World Series. Instead of giving a four-year contract to the 35-year-old Zobrist costing them $15 million for the next season, they have spent around $10 million for Walker and Cabrera combined (Walker will earn about $10 million in arbitration, while Niese would have earned about $9 million – effectively a wash.) The math is easy with the Mets coming out $5 million ahead. So not only have the Mets upgraded the middle infield but they have a $5 million dollar bonus to spend on getting a power bat for the outfield. The Mets have given every indication they are not done dealing for players.
Flores will still have a major role with the Mets. The switch-hitting Walker is much better from the left-side which will give Flores at bats replacing Walker. Third baseman David Wright continues to battle spinal stenosis which will give Flores several starts at third base.
What about the loss of Niese? Well, with their four young aces Harvey, Syndergaard, deGrom, and Matz and the expected return of Wheeler and maybe a new one year contract for Colon, the Mets did not figure on Niese playing a major role in 2016 anyway.
Yes, Mets fans you will see your beloved Mets in the 2016 playoffs.