As much as the Mets would like the fans to believe yesterday’s Jay Bruce trade was solely about bolstering the inept offense, it also said a lot about the Mets future plans. It undoubtedly exposed the Mets dirty little secret. The first thing it showed was fairly obvious. Jay Bruce is “insurance” for when Yoenis Cespedes opts-out of his contract. But insurance isn’t really a fair term to use because it implies that Bruce is protection against something unexpected happening. The “unexpected” thing to protect against would be Yoenis Cespedes taking big money to go elsewhere at the end of the season. I would argue that’s not unexpected. It’s seemingly an absolute lock. The Mets made it clear last offseason they had no intention of paying Cespedes the money he has earned and giving him the long term deal he deserves. They lucked out because the free agent market was skeptical of Yo repeating his career best 2015 season. As a result, he was willing to spurn the Nationals and accept the Mets ridiculous one year opt-out deal.
But the other thing the Bruce deal officially confirmed is we are about to experience Daniel Murphy 2.0 with Neil Walker in free agency. The Mets supposedly let Daniel Murphy go because they felt his defense was too much of a liability, but they also sold everyone on the notion that Dilson Herrera was the unquestioned second baseman of the future for the organization. Yet yesterday they put him into the Bruce deal in place of Brandon Nimmo like it was nothing and shipped him off to the Reds. When he was asked about second base beyond this season, Sandy Alderson mentioned Jose Reyes and Triple-A shortstop Gavin Cecchini . He made no mention of Neil Walker in the pool of candidates. Why? Because there’s no chance the Mets retain him. He’s Neil Walkyear. He was brought in to ultimately walk away and make room for Herrera. That was his destiny. But now Herrera is gone, and I feel like everyone has just accepted the notion that Walker will be gone soon too. Nobody is asking why.
Why wouldn’t the Mets consider retaining Walker? After a scorching hot April where he hit 9 home runs and posted a .962 OPS, he cooled a lot between May and July. His .565 June OPS was exceptionally bad. But he still posted a respectable .754 OPS in May and a .753 OPS in July. He still ranks 6th in the NL in OPS among qualifying second baseman. He still ranks second among NL second baseman with 17 home runs behind you know who. If he finishes strong in August and September, he’ll rank among the top second baseman in the NL in plenty of offensive categories. That’s the exact player we were told we were getting when we traded for him. He also has an UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) of 8.2 according to FanGraphs which is tops among MLB second baseman. So one of the advanced metrics says he’s been a strong defender in 2016. Based on all that, why wouldn’t we consider signing him to the reasonable 3 or 4 year deal that he’s likely to command as a free agent? I’ll tell you why. It’s the same reason we didn’t even entertain signing Murph. The Mets have no interest in signing players to long-term deals, especially if they can fill the need for free (see Jose Reyes). And I’m not saying Neil Walker is the unequivocal choice for second base or a long term deal either. I’m not solely making an impassioned plea for Neil Walker. If the Mets want to consider other infielders like Martin Prado, Justin Turner, or someone else in the offseason that’s fine by me. But you know they won’t do that. They will all command multi-year contracts. The Mets haven’t said a word about that because it’s not in the cards.
Can you believe Sandy cited Jose Reyes as the second baseman of the future? The same Jose Reyes that was the subject of deplorable off-field actions and the same Reyes that currently sits on the DL (where he spends most of his time). Well now we know the dirty little secret. We know that the Herrera second baseman of the future story was just a line we were fed to make it easier to stomach the front office’s decision to pass on signing Murph to a reasonable 3-year deal. I’m sure they’ll come up with an even better spin as we get closer to the offseason to rationalize not even pursuing Walker at all in free agency. Sure he’s a former Silver Slugger winner and has a chance to lead all NL second baseman in home runs this season, but who cares? We have Jose! At least until he strains his hammy in Spring Training.