After a slow start to his season and three weeks on the disabled list with a back injury, there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding Mets infielder Wilmer Flores's return.
But he has put those concerns to bed, with two doubles, two walks, and a home run over the last week, raising the question of what he can be for the Mets - -or for other teams -- as the season wears on.
Prior to being placed on the disabled list, Flores had been a disappointing piece of the Mets' offense. He had put up his lowest batting average since his debut season and showed a significant dip in power as well. Moreover, he was putting up exceptionally poor numbers against left-handed pitching, in stark contrast to prior seasons.
It's difficult to say how much back pain impacted his performance, but he has broken out since returning and is hitting for power, while also sustaining the highest on base percentage of his career. Flores is making excellent contact while rarely striking out. He has always maintained strikeout rates well below average, but he's also showing the ability to draw walks consistently for the first time.
He is still lagging behind his career numbers in terms of power, but he's giving every indication that he will catch up quickly.
Notably, Flores is still showing reverse splits, with an .861 OPS against right-handed pitching and a .590 OPS against left-handed pitching. It's important to remember, though, that these still qualify as small samples, particularly since he has missed some time, and he will most likely trend towards his career splits (.695 OPS against righties and .807 against lefties). But it's possible that as he has developed, he's getting better at seeing the ball from right-handers, particularly since his walk and strikeout rates against them are excellent.
Flores's return, and emergence from his early-season slump, provides the Mets with a valuable asset in the lineup, helping to balance out a lefty-heavy offense. He should see most of his time at first base, while Dominic Smith gets accustomed to the outfield, but can also fill in for the aching Asdrubal Cabrera in a pinch (though the further Flores stays away from third base, the better).
In the longer term, Flores may end up playing an even bigger role off the field than on -- as a trade chip. The value of partial-year rental players has declined in recent years as teams prefer to bring in assets under team control.
Flores will be entering his last year of arbitration this upcoming offseason and will be a free agent after the 2019 season at just 28 years old, so his youth and team-friendly status may appeal to teams looking for a right-handed bat. Packaging him with one of their relievers on an expiring deal may be a way to bring back a promising prospect without having to deal one of their top-shelf pitchers.
Despite this potential value, the Mets haven't yet shown interest in punting the 2019 season, so a cost-controlled player like Flores may still factor into their plans. But with the team indicating they're open for business at the deadline, expect to hear his name come up in rumors. In the meantime, the fan favorite seems to have righted the ship and should be a fun bat to watch into the summer.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring