General Manager Sandy Alderson's recent endorsement of Wilmer Flores as the Mets' Opening Day starter merely said that it was a "likelihood" that Flores would start. As endorsements go, that's weak. Manager Terry Collins refused to even go that far on Monday.
Flores hit .251, with a .286 OBP and .378 SLG in 78 games with the Mets in 2014, good for a 88 wRC+ (where 100 is average), in the season in which he turned 23-years-old. Partial season defensive numbers are extremely unreliable and split on Flores: while he was worth +4.0 runs by Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), he was worth -3 runs by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS). To be clear, I think Flores can hit at the big league level, although I don't know where he will play defensively, and I do not think he can play shortstop everyday.
Did the Yankees' move have any implications for the Mets?
The argument is that the Mets have players they could have traded, at similar positions, to the ones the Tigers and Diamondbacks received and exceeded either team's return. However, the Mets, have been careful to hoard their pitching. In fact, according to David Lennon of Newsday, the Mets were not very "involved" in the derby for Gregorius after the Diamondbacks made clear that they wanted prospect Noah Syndergaard for the Mets. That's a big ask, but there's plenty of wiggle room between Syndergaard's perceived value and what the Diamondbacks eventually received. Syndergaard is still regarded as one of the top RHP pitching prospects in the game and one of the best 20 or so overall prospects. And yet, he has not made the jump to the big leagues.
The Yankees used the Detroit Tigers as a pass through. The Yankees sent RHP Shane Greene, who was roughly league average in his 2014 debut season to the Tigers, who then sent Arizona two promising younger players in INF Domingo Leyba and LHP Robbie Ray.
|Yankees||RHP Shane Greene||SS Didi Gregorius|
|Tigers||LHP Robbie Ray, INF Domingo Leyba||Shane Greene|
|Diamondbacks||SS Didi Gregorius||LHP Robbie Ray, INF Domingo Leyba|
The question for the Mets is really is whether Gregorius, who is six months older than Flores was a significant enough upgrade over the incumbent to be worth the move. Gregorius is a strong fielder, (at ESPN Keith Law called him "excellent"), but he might never hit much. In 191 between his age 23 and 24 seasons, Gregorius has hit .243/.310/.366 in the big leagues for a 88 wRC+. That's enough to stick at shortstop if it's combined with average or better defense at the position and maybe over a full season get him potentially get him to the 2-3 WAR range as an average player. Gregorius' walk (8.1 percent) and strikeout rates (16.9 percent) were reasonable, but he has done very little damage on contact as his .280 BABIP makes plain. He's an underpowered guy with a MLB HR/FB rate at 6 percent and an infield popup rate at 13 percent. The risk for the Yankees on Gregorius is that even if his defense is really good, his bat keeps his value down in the roughly win range per year and they'll still be searching for an offensive upgrade at shortstop. Steamer, a publicly available projection system does not see much breakout potential in Gregorius, pegging him for 1.2 wins in 80 games or about 2 wins if he played 140 games.
Could the Mets have sent the Tigers a capable starter like Greene? Yup.
Who is the Mets' pitcher most similar to Greene? By ERA estimators, both Zack Wheeler and Jon Niese were very close to average in 2014.
However, in terms of right-handed late bloomers, fellow 26-year-old Jacob deGrom is a better match for Greene. Both offer six more years of team control. Drafted out of small colleges, both right-handers have had Tommy John surgery and had strikeout rates in the majors better than their results in the upper minors. Greene did not make Baseball America's Top 30 Yankee prospects from his draft date in 2009, until earning the No. 16 ranking heading into 2014. To simplify his career arc, he was ordinary statistically with Charleston in the SAL in 2011, flopped with Tampa in advanced Single-A in 2012 and then, BA suggests he was sent across the complex to extended spring training where he made mechanical adjustments to stay on line toward the plate better. He finished up 2013 with a strong half-season in Double-A.
Let's get this out of the way: The NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom had a much better 2014 than Greene and is a more valuable property. They both made a half-season (or so) worth of starts. deGrom had a 2.69 ERA and a 78 ERA- (which adjusts for park and league and where 100 is league average and lower is better) in 22 starts. Greene had a 3.78 ERA in 15 starts and a 98 ERA-.
With the Yankees in the big leagues, Greene performed better than he had at nearly any point in the minors as his ERA dropped and his strikeout rate rose. The same goes for deGrom and the Mets.
Why did Greene's strikeout rate jump once he started pitching his home games in Yankee Stadium? He was more effective against right-handed hitters than at any point in his minor league tenure. The table below captures Greene's strikeout rate against hitters of both hands since the start of the 2013 season.
|.||vs. LHH||vs. RHH||Overall|
|2013 - A+||19.7||23.5||22.0|
|2013 - AA||14.0||23.3||19.5|
|2014 - AAA||13.5||24.5||19.3|
|2014 - MLB||16.6||31.3||23.5|
DeGrom went through a similar, though not identical, pattern in the sense that his strikeout rate increased from the high teens in the upper minors to the mid-20s when he reached the big leagues. However, the source of the improvement is quite different.
This is deGrom's strikeout rate versus lefthanded and right-handed hitters.
|vs. LHH||vs. RHH||Overall|
|2013 - A+||10.0||36.7||26.0|
|2013 - AA||12.4||19.2||16.7|
|2013 - AAA||17.4||20.5||19.0|
|2014 - AAA||20.3||16.1||18.0|
|2014 - MLB||23.5||26.9||25.5|
Like Greene, deGrom's average fastball is above 93, actually 93.5. Unlike Greene, deGrom's fastball (we're mixing sinkers with four-seamers here for both pitchers) carries a huge positive run value in Fangraph's accounting at +15. Notably, his curveball and his changeup, his third and fourth-most used pitches also were valued positively. It's the development of this changeup which he throws 20 percent of the time to lefties and 6 percent to righties, that's helped so much against left-handed hitters.
Is Niese a better comparison for Greene? The problem here is partly financial. Niese is owed $16 million over his next two seasons, with team options for $10 and $11 million for 2017 and 2018. Greene will be making close to MLB minimum for two more years, and will only be hitting arbitration by the time the guaranteed portion of Niese's contract runs out. If the Tigers were trying to get cheap innings, Niese does not quite fit the bill in the same way as Greene.
Wheeler, as a former first-round pick, who was already swapped for an elite player in Carlos Beltran, comes with a level of hype that is still somewhere above his aggregate level of production. He has an extra year of MLB service time over Greene, and has pitched as roughly a league average guy in his age 23 and 24 seasons. Given that longer track record and more heralded pedigree, he's still, absent contract considerations, a more valuable property. Wheeler, by dint of that MLB time, has one fewer years of team control remaining than does Greene. Still, the 24-year-old's ERA- sits at a perfectly league average 100 for his career.
Again, I'd argue based on age, and years of control, Jacob deGrom is the Mets hurler most similar to Shane Greene. He's also better than Greene. However, one could make the case that either Zack Wheeler or Jon Niese are more similar. In any case, the Mets had no fewer than three options if Detroit was looking for a pitcher in their 20s with a modest big league track record to provide innings for a team in win-now mode.
What if the Mets had dealt directly with Arizona? The Diamondbacks received Ray and Leyba from Detroit.
Robbie Ray is a project at this point who does not look like he will return value as a big league starter. His strikeout rate has declined as he's gone through the minors and in 2014, he ran a strikeout rate of 17% in AAA on his way to a 4.22 ERA and then was blasted for a 8.16 ERA in 28.2 innings over nine appearances in the big leagues in which he produced a 14% strikeout rate. Last winter, Ray was the centerpiece of the Doug Fister trade. The Tigers would like a mulligan. Ray seems likely to go the bullpen to provide big league value.
Leyba, who turned 19 in September split his year between the New York-Penn League and low-A Michigan in the Midwest League. He hit an unassuming .264/.303/.375 in 37 games in the NYP, and then torched the MWL for a .397/.431/.483 mark in 30 games to finish the year. He played second base and shortstop this year, but Jim Callis at MLB.com thinks he's destined for second base when he reaches the big leagues, writing that he "fits better at second because his speed and arm are average at best. But he should produce enough at the plate to become a big league regular." The Mets prospect who seems most like Leyba to me is Dilson Herrera as second-baseman who an average second baseman with the bat to be dangerous. However, Herrera is much closer to providing big league value than Leyba. The Mets don't have a true second baseman south of Herrera who matches up with Leyba. If we're going to expand the value comparison game to infielders who were in a-ball or short-season A in 2014, Jhoan Ureana, Gavin Cecchini and Amed Rosario are all middle infielders with very roughly similar values.
I don't really know what the Diamondbacks think they are getting in Ray. The Mets could certainly have sent them an infield prospect and an upper level arm. Perhaps a comparable or even superior package would have been something like Jhoan Urena or Gavin Cecchini and Gabriel Ynoa that would have rivaled what the Diamondbacks received from the Tigers.
In the end though, the Mets did not make a play for Gregorious. Given his age, and lackluster offensive production in his first two big league seasons, that's understandable. Still, the team could use a shortstop, which has been true since Jose Reyes left. If the team is really serious about contending in 2015, the Mets will use organizational assets, including money, a prospect or two and a pitcher to fill in the hole on the left side of their infield this winter.