Technically, Sandy Alderson can cover all four infield positions by using veterans Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilmer Flores and rookies Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. Unfortunately, when all are playing at the same time, they make for a below-average group...
As a result, I expect Alderson to acquire at least one -- and possibly three -- new infielders before the start of next season. It's not going to be easy, though. From what I can gather, this winter's trade and free-agent market for infielders is going to be slow, complicated and contingent on blockbuster trade options, how teams value defense, and whether Zack Cozart wants to play second base.
The way it stands for the Mets, Rosario and Smith are only penciled in as the team's starting shortstop and first baseman next season. Their names are not in ink.
The Mets will deny it in public, but I'm convinced in talking to people around the league that the Mets are 100 percent willing to discuss both players in trade, especially Smith, and are not necessarily committed to starting them next season.
Sep 10, 2017; Smith is congratulated by shortstop Rosario after hitting a HR. Credit: Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Interestingly, earlier this week, former Mets GM Jim Duquette wrote for MLB.com that the Mets could be interested in free agents Eric Hosmer, Yonser Alonso, Logan Morrison, and Carlos Santana, all of whom will be expensive and play first base.
In the event Smith is traded, I'd bet on it being for a second baseman, since the free-agent market at that position is rather weak. In addition to the Mets, I hear the Brewers, Blue Jays, Rays, and Angels are all open to acquiring a second baseman and will likely engage the Marlins about Dee Gordon, who will definitely be traded before Opening Day.
Gordon is not the only second baseman expected to be available in trade, though. The Tigers will reportedly listen to offers for Ian Kinsler, just as the Twins will explore trading Brian Dozier.
Alderson's first call, though, should be to the Indians, who have been talking about trading Jason Kipnis since last summer. He is worth asking about mostly due to his experience and affordable, short-term contract. At this point, because the deal he signed in 2014 was front-loaded, Kipnis is now due only $13.5 million in 2018 and $14 million in 2019, after which he can be a free agent. He is an average fielder, at best, but he knows the position and is still slick on double plays, plus he's also capable of and willing to play first base and center field.
I prefer Gordon to Kpinis, though. Gordon is a better defender than Kipnis or Cabrera, plus he can hit leadoff and locks in a multi-year double play partner for Rosario. Most important, I don't think the cost to get him in trade from Miami will be as much as people think.
Much like teams were skeptical about having Juan Pierre or Jose Reyes locked in for three years at a similar age and a game based entirely on the ability to run and make contact, I think today's teams are equally worried about Gordon. To me, I see a 29-year-old that is athletic enough to keep producing what is essentially 60 or so doubles each of the next three seasons, especially if he's playing 81 games at Citi Field.
In other words, with five or so teams looking for a second baseman -- and given that Kinsler, Dozier and Kipnis are also available, plus other free agent second basemen -- based on what I'm hearing, I truly believe the Marlins may end up giving Gordon away to the first team willing to take on all $38 million due to him between now and 2020.
In terms of WAR, Gordon has produced twice the value he's being paid. I have doubts he can continue that pace. But, even if he drops off a bit, given the options, I'd gladly swap a couple pitching mid-level prospects for him and every penny on his deal.
Thankfully, because Cabrera will be back with the Mets and able to play multiple positions, Alderson should not feel pressure to make any one move. Instead, he can explore his options and -- if all else fails -- simply keep Smith, Cabrera, and Rosario and sign a free agent third baseman.
In the event the Mets turn to a free agent to play third, I don't expect it will be 3B Mike Moustakas. The Angels, Giants, Cardinals, and Yankees all have money to spend, interest in Moustakas and a need at third base, so he should have no issue getting at least a five or six-year deal worth between $15-20 million a season. Again, I don't see Alderson blowing 70 percent of his offseason budget on anyone, let alone a guy that plays the same position as Cabrera, Flores, and David Wright.
Similarly, the early buzz from Toronto is that the Jays are open to moving Josh Donaldson if they can get two or three of your team's top-10 prospects and at least one established pitcher under contract beyond next season. For the Mets, I don't think their package will compete with other interested parties. Alderson could include Rosario or Smith here, but that in turn means he'd need to acquire a shortstop or first baseman.
Aug 18, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier (29) signs an autograph prior to a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Instead, I see Alderson pursuing Eduardo Nunez (who can play second and third base, like Cabrera) and Todd Frazier (who can play third and first base).
Long story short, I think there's merit to the idea that Alderson might deal Smith and go after a veteran first baseman, as Duquette seemed to be suggesting in his MLB.com post. I think Alderson will struggle to do it, but it makes sense to explore his options, especially since there are several first basemen available on the open market and in trade.
As a result of this potential Smith wild card, it's nearly impossible to predict what Mickey Callaway's infield will look like in 2018. I think it's just as possible we're watching Rosario, Cabrera, Smith and Flores next year (depending on how they handle the outfield) as we could end up watching Rosario, Cabrera, Frazier and Nunez or Kipnis, or Wright, Smith, Rosario and Gordon.
Like I said, it's complicated...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...