Last Fall Daniel Murphy had a postseason to remember. The then free agent-to-be lit up the world with seven bombs and 11 RBI, while batting .328. For a man in his first ever-postseason experience, Murphy re-wrote the record books in the playoffs.
Even after a bad slump in the World Series, Mets fans still wanted Murphy back in blue and orange for the long term, but Murphy’s contract demands combined with the demands of Yoenis Cespedes put the Mets a tough spot, with really no choice but to let Murphy walk in free agency.
To counter, Mets traded Jonathon Niese to Pittsburgh for a rental in second baseman Neil Walker, and then signed free agent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera pushing Ruben Tejada out of town, and relegating Wilmer Flores to the bench.
A new year brings a new middle infield for the Mets, and with it are questions about how both players will adjust to the high expectations that now surround the Mets.
Walker’s addition will be the most scrutinized since he is replacing Murphy. Walker is a good baseball player; in a lot of ways he and Murphy are pretty much the same player offensively.
The differences being that Walker is a more consistent power threat, with double digit home runs totals in every years of his Major League career, and has belted 16 or more home runs in each of the past three years. On the flip side, Walker is a guy who strikes out a ton. He struck 100 times or more in three of his MLB seasons, whereas Murphy never struck out 100 times in a season, and only struck out 38 times last year.
But outside of the numbers, there is a lot of pressure playing in New York, and there will be added pressure on Walker replacing a popular player. New York has gobbled up and spit out good players like Roberto Alomar, Mo Vaughn and Jeff Kent to name a few like they were nothing. Walker is a Pittsburgh native, who played his entire career in his native town. New York is a new experience totally for him.
Over the past three April’s Walker has done pretty well, batting at .257 (67 hits in 261 April at bats) with eight homers and 29 RBI. But remember this was in a familiar setting; so in new territory don’t be surprised to see Walker struggle in April as he adjusts to life in Citi Field. As the season progresses, fully expect Walker to live up to his baseball card.
As for Cabrera, he is already off to a bad start in 2016. He suffered a strained patella tendon in his left knee, and only just recently began playing in minor league rehab games. If Cabrera’s knee issues drag into the season, it would be a big hurt for the Mets since they spent $18 million over two years for him.
Cabrera is a pretty good player, but not a great fielding shortstop (.974 career fielding percentage at SS). He had only one really outstanding season for the Indians back in 2011, when he mashed 25 homers and drove in 92. Other than that, his numbers aren’t anything that the Mets couldn’t get from Wilmer Flores on a season-by-season basis.
That’s what is most fascinating about Cabrera’s season. His 2016 will be heavily intertwined with Flores, who is a fan favorite. If Cabrera, who struggled badly in the month of April in 2015 and 2014, rears its head this year, there will almost certainly be calls for Flores to start at short everyday. Flores deserves a chance to start this year at shortstop, so this is a position battle that will likely drag into the regular season.
Expect Cabrera to get his fair share of time at short, and depending on David Wright's health, and Flores play off the bench, he could see either more or less playing time as the season progresses. Should be interesting to see how Cabrera handles this pressure all season.