What to do with Wilmer Flores?

This offseason has been a relatively quiet one for the New York Mets. While many other teams are making big splashes, the Mets have made minor moves re-signing Jerry Blevins and Bartolo Colon, signing Asdrubal Cabrera, and trading Jon Niese for Neil Walker. The Walker trade was the Mets’ reaction to losing out in the Ben Zobrist sweepstakes the only major free agent they have been connected to thus far.

Walker will fill the need at second that was vacated by postseason hero Daniel Murphy. Many in the baseball world have praised the deal for Walker, as he is younger player who has a similar skill set to Zobrist at this point in his career, and is only under contract for one more season. With Walker now in the fold to play second and Cabrera being announced as the team’s primary shortstop, the Mets are now struck with the interesting proposition of what to do with Wilmer Flores.

Flores has been a highly-rated prospect, still extremely young at 24, and coming off a season where he was worth two wins. His transition to the big leagues has not gone quite as smoothly as hoped, but he was just under league average at the plate in 2015 with his 95 wRC+. Finding a position has been an issue for Flores, however, as he is a below-average defender at short and cannot stick there long term. By evaluating Zobrist’s evolution into MLB star, it is evident that Flores’s career may be able to follow a similar trajectory.

Zobrist initially came up as as a SS, but is most well known for his positional flexibility, splitting time between the OF and 2B as his career progressed. For his career, Zobrist has hit .265 with a .166 ISO. Since he became a full time player in 2008, Zobrist has been an above average hitter every season posting a career wRC+ of 118. While Flores has yet to be an above-league-average offensive player there are a number of reasons for optimism. Since coming up Flores has seen his ISO numbers rise, up to .145 this season while also hitting a career best .263 batting average. His strikeout numbers were solid with a 12% K-rate although he walked under 4% of his plate appearances. Still only 24, Flores has not reached his prime, and his power is only expected to grow as he ages. The most interesting stats for Flores, however, are his splits by position played.

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As it can be seen by looking at these splits in a little under a third of a season’s worth of plate appearances, Flores has been a significantly above-average hitter when playing second. While playing a less demanding defensive position, Flores has seen a huge jump in offensive production. Additionally, the Mets should consider giving Flores time in the OF. Michael Conforto is the current Mets’ left fielder, and while he showed flashes at the plate he was dreadful against left-handers posting a wRC+ of 39. Curtis Granderson is penciled into the right field spot, and like Conforto he struggles against lefties with a slightly better wRC+ of 61. Flores has been better against lefties in his career 91 wRC+ vs 88 wRC+ in his career, but across 100 PAs in 2015 he mashed lefties to the tune of a .310 average, .290 ISO, and 162 wRC+.

The Mets could use Flores as a platoon option for  both Conforto and Granderson when they face lefties, and to allow him to learn how to play the OF. Platooning Flores with these guys as well as using him to spell David Wright at third and Lucas Duda as first in 2016 should provide Flores ample PAs. By removing his focus from his defense at SS, Flores will be able to reach the offensive potential he has shown early on in his career.

The Mets do not need Wilmer Flores to be a full-time player for 2016 with the additions of Walker and Cabrera, but with Walker’s contract expiring after this season and Granderson’s in 2017, getting Flores OF experience will provide them with positional options in the coming seasons. The Mets should follow what the Tampa Bay Rays did all those years ago with Zobrist and turn Flores into a super utility man, a position he could prove to be elite in.

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