MLB Comings and Goings; Wither Wilmer?

arrows2After Sunday’s game, the Mets sent three players who were not performing like big leaguers to AAA and replaced them with three players unlikely ever to contribute like big leaguers. It speaks to just how poorly the Mets are playing, and the lack of immediate Major League help that the team could execute a three-for-three swap, or four-for-four if one expands the moves by two days to include the Rick Ankiel/Kirk Nieuwenhuis swap, or five-for-five to add Collin McHugh/David Aardsma and expect to see such little return on the field. It was the first time the Mets made three MLB demotions in a day since 2004.

The Trio
The Mets sent 1B Ike Davis, OF Mike Baxter and LHP Robert Carson down to AAA Las Vegas. The plan is to select 1B Josh Satin (and add him to the 40-man roster) and recall LHP Josh Edgin and OF Colin Cowgill, who are already on the 40-man roster. This is action (the WSJ word, or a message says the Post), but the players coming to the big leagues will not materially move the Mets towards fielding a winning team.

Davis is the most important player of the six moving before the Mets begin a series Tuesday against St. Louis. Coming into 2013, his age 26 season he was a career .252/.336/.461 hitting over 339 Major League games with 58 homers and a 11% walk rate against 23% strikeout rate. The Mets were counting on him to be part of  their core group of position players moving into a more win-filled future in 2014. Instead, Davis did not just not hit like a productive 1B, he did not hit like a Major League player in 207 PA. His wRC+ of 39 (! – where 100 is MLB average) was the second-worst among qualified Major League hitters, better than only Jeff Keppinger. Overall, he was hitting .161/.242/.258 with a 9% walk rate and an unacceptable 32% strikeout rate. Davis has been a win below replacement level one third of the way through the 2013 season.

He belongs in AAA. Recall that Davis played just 10 games in AAA at the start of the 2010 season before the Mets got sick of the Mike Jacobs experiment at first base. At the time, the move made sense for a Mets’ team that still thought it was a competitor. Once down in AAA, Davis has no excuse for not producing. He will be playing in one of baseball’s environments most conducive to offense in a market far removed from New York both geographically and metaphorically in terms of pressure.

The 28-year-old Baxter, and one of the heroes of Johan Santana’ 2012 no-hitter had not hit while working as the Mets’ fourth or perhaps fifth outfielder. In 102 PA, he hit .212/.333/.282 with five extra-base and zero homeruns. He draws walks (12% walk rate) in 2013, but that’s about all he has done as his .070 isolated slugging percentage is anemic. With respect to Baxter, Terry Collins’ has deployed him as well as he could have, playing him nearly exclusively against righties. From 2010 through 2012, Baxter hit righties capably – .275/.370/.440 with 15 doubles and four homers in 200 AB. He never hit lefties (1-for-21; a .048/.200/.095 line) for an extreme platoon split. In 2013, Baxter is 3-for-9 against lefties, but has failed against righties (.197/.326/.276 in 76 AB). There are small sample size issues here under 100 PA, but a platoon bench-hitter who doesn’t hit against the side he is supposed to menace has no big league value.

Rob Carson has just never given any indication that he can retire big league hitters. His year, he owns a 8.50 ERA, and in 18 innings has given up 19 hits, 18 runs, 17 ER, 8 (!) HR, with seven walks and seven strikeouts. Carson’s size and fastball (~93 mph in 2013) got him to the big leagues where his below average secondaries and fastball command made him a late-inning gift to opposing hitters.

Coming Back
So, how about that help coming back to the Mets? Expect little.

In the outfield, the Mets are recalling Cowgill, who owns a .235/.291/.308 MLB line in 268 MLB PA over the last three years. While playing in the PCL in 2011 through 2013, he has hit .307/.381/.476 in 885 PA over his age 25-27 seasons.

In the bullpen, Edgin gave up over a run an inning his big league tour early in the season. The Mets sent him back to AA where he gave up seven runs in eight innings and was scored upon in three of his five appearances. That was good enough to earn a return trip to Las Vegas where he’s allowed seven runs on 14 hits in 10.2 innings with 12 strikeouts and two walks, which is better. Yes, he’s only four outings without allowing a run: that’s a stretch of 4.2 innings with two hits, a HPB, a walk and 4 K. Break out the champagne. Edgin was a below replacement pitcher in 2012, and was significantly worse in 2013. Major small sample size caveat here, but the reason he moved from tolerable to intolerable was that he lost his slider which had a pitch value of +2.8 runs above average in 2012 to -1.6 in 2013.

The 28-year-old Satin is 5-for-26 (.192) in his brief big league looks in 2011 and 2012. Like Cowgill, he has been a productive hitter at AAA: .297/.397/.447 in 951 PA between 2011-2013, two-thirds of which was in the International League and this season in the Pacific Coast League. The notion that he is an important part of the Mets’ future at first base is laughable. Rather, he belongs, perhaps, as a right-handed bat off a bench. A collegiate second baseman, Satin has played 47 games at first for Las Vegas this year and one game in left. In the past he has played a little third, although his arm is short for the position.

Who should be playing first base? Lucas Duda. Despite a low batting average (.228) Duda, through the strength of walks (13.3%) and homers (10 in 57 games) has been an above average hitter (.336 OBP/.440 SLG and a 118 wRC+) in 2013. A star? No. A useful big league hitter? Yes. The problem is that he gives back nearly all of his offensive production with his defensive foibles in the outfield. UZR puts him an extraordinary -35 runs/150 games defensively in the outfield. If that seems too bad to be true, Total Zone puts him -19/1200 innings while BIS put him a similar -20 runs above average per 1200 innings. Lucas Duda’s defense makes him unplayable in the outfield. As long as Ike Davis is in the minors, starting Duda in the outfield is a waste of time.

Younger in the Outfield
Perhaps the fourth move that should be lumped in here is the Mets’ designating Rick Ankiel for assignment, which will likely foreshadow his release. Ankiel hit an entirely predictable and putrid .182/.239/.364 in 20 games for the Mets. His departure opens the way for Kirk Nieuwenhuis’ return and more playing time for Juan Lagares and Jordany Valdespin. Over his last 26 games in AAA, Nieuwenhuis hit .250/.353/.550 with 9 homers and 26 strikeouts. The strikeouts will always be a problem for him in the big leagues, but at 25 years old, it makes a lot more sense to run him out there in centerfield instead of Ankiel.

 

Older in the Staff
Going all the way back to Saturday, the Mets sent Collin McHugh, who just turned 26, back to AAA and replaced him with 31-year-old David Aardsman. This pains me because I really like McHugh who is funny and insightful, but he just was not pitching well enough to stay in the big leagues (7 IP, 12 H, 8 R, 2 HR, 3 BB, 3 K). Aardsma has thrown one Major League inning in the last two years, but hey, in 2009 and 2010 he was a capable, if unspectacular reliever for the Mariners. For his career, he owns a 105+ ERA+. Perhaps he can be a non-flammable middle reliever.

 

Wither Wilmer?
Fans want to see 21-year-old Wilmer Flores. After a slow opening week for AAA Las Vegas, he’s been very productive. In his last 50 games, he has hit .318/.356/.512 with 27 extra-base hits (20 2B, 2 3B, 5 HR), 10 walks, and 26 strikeouts. He’s played 47 games at second, two at first and one at third. He is just not an option at first base for the Mets until he plays more first in the minors. However, his value will be much, much higher if he can play second where his bat profiles better.

And for now, the Mets do not need a second baseman. Daniel Murphy is fourth overall in baseball in WAR (1.9) for 2B, part of a pack that includes Marco Scutaro (1.9), Murphy, Brandon Philips, Howie Kendrick and Jedd Gyorko (1.8 each) and Robinson Cano (1.6).  Defensive metrics are imprecise over partial seasons and some of Murphy’s value comes from his +5.3 UZR, which is better than all of his peers listed above. I don’t think there’s any executive in the game who would take Murphy over Cano or Philips. So let’s revise and instead of labeling Murphy a Top 5 second baseman, call him Top 10.

Can Flores play second? Even Las Vegas manager Wally Backman is not sure. As he told MiLB.com:

“The thing is, he turns the double play well, he has good hands,” he said. “His range is a little limited, but we’re working on trying to increase it as much as possible. The more he plays second base, the better he’ll become. Position will be a big factor for him.”

The Mets seem committed to getting Flores repetitions at second now. What’s that means for Murphy? Nothing yet. One of two three scenarios is likely for Murphy and the Mets: either 1. the team trades Murphy and rolls with Flores at second, or 2. gives up on the Flores at second base idea and moves him to first, 3. moves Murphy to first to make room for Flores (and Ike Davis and Lucas Duda disappear). Three is unlikely to happen, and Murphy’s offense – no seasons above a .450 slugging percentage in which he’s played 50 games, just is not worth much at first. Still, Flores is hardly a finished product – he either needs to improve defensively at second or develop more power to play first. Either is possible, but there’s no urgency here.

 

And So…
Where does this leave the Mets? Still 23-35 with the second-worst record in the National League. Swapping out Ankiel for Nieuwenhuis is a net positive and opened a spot on the team’s 40-man roster. Putting Ike Davis in AAA where he has a chance to fix himself is appropriate. Adding David Aardsma over Collin McHugh is a small net gain for the bullpen, but Aardsma himself has little chance of contributing to the Mets’ next winning team. In this sense, the move carries little significance.

Everything else that has happened roster-wise in the last two days is just churn. The moves all are justifiable, reasonable and well-intentioned, and even you know, right. And yet, they will not make the Mets materially better. That’s a weird and sorry commentary.