With the news that Mets first baseman Lucas Duda is out for a significant, but still-uncertain amount of time, New York has been left scrambling to identify a replacement. Internal options are questionable, leaving the team eyeing outside help.
Needless to say, the summer trade market remains largely undefined. And early deals are generally hard to come by, at least for more significant players. We’ll also posit that New York is interested in players who have some kind of MLB track record to speak of, both in terms of offensive production and defensive work at first base.
Generally speaking, then, there are five approaches the Mets could take in looking at new additions — most of them, varying approaches to the trade market. Of course, the team could pursue multiple avenues over the coming months.
Let’s take a look:
Duda is under club control for one more season after this one, though he’ll be due a raise on a $6.725MM arbitration salary, with the hope that he’ll play at a high level now while providing a bridge to prospect Dominic Smith. But the first base position is far from a certainty, and it’s at least plausible to imagine that longer-term assets would be considered.
Chris Carter of the Brewers could potentially be had, but his big start and remaining control might make him a bit expensive — at least this far in advance of the deadline. He’s also a streaky, all-or-nothing hitter and is less valuable to a National League club that can’t shift him to a DH role if and when that becomes preferable.
The Cardinals could be willing to part with Matt Adams, a 3+ arb class player who has struggled at times in recent years and is somewhat redundant with Brandon Moss on the roster. Of course, Adams has returned to form somewhat thus far while Moss is set to depart via free agency, and the contending Cards may not wish to part with either. It’s worth bearing in mind that Adams has continued to do the vast majority of his damage against righties, so he’s really not an everyday option in the interim and would be a poor fit when Duda returns.
Meanwhile, the Twins are as buried as any team in baseball, but it’s not clear that any of their first basemen are really trade candidates. Byung-ho Park would be a significant piece to pursue given his contract and promising early major league results, and certainly looks to be a part of Minnesota’s plans for a hopeful renaissance in the near future.
It’s always tough to assess which players are available, or could be as the deadline approaches, but usually there are some clear short-term veterans who can be had. It’s not really evident this year whether that’s the case, however.
The Orioles never seemed like the best fit for Pedro Alvarez, and he’s struggled at the plate. But he’s also needed now, filling in at times at third with J.J. Hardy out, and it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the club wants him on the roster moving forward. Baltimore could like the idea of shedding some salary to pursue other additions, though, and it did ship out a similarly-priced Alejandro De Aza in early June last year.
Other similarly questionable targets include Logan Morrison of the Rays, Mitch Moreland of the Rangers, and Justin Smoak of the Blue Jays. All are priced in the $4MM to $5MM range and play for teams that could, at least in theory, turn to other options while still seeking to make a run at the playoffs. Of course, only Smoak is hitting among this group, and Toronto seems rather unlikely to give up his bat at this stage.
In some ways, it’s even less clear whether the Rockies will have any willingness to talk about Mark Reynolds, but he’d also be a consideration. He’s a high-K hitter, of course, but is off to a nice start and is owed just $2.6MM this year. Also, Reynolds hits from the right side, making him a nice option to pair with Duda if and when he’s back in action.
That brings us to Kelly Johnson, who was acquired last summer by the Mets from the Braves. He’s back in Atlanta now, and there’s probably no team more willing to trade early than the struggling, rebuilding Braves. Of course, Johnson is off to a slow start and would at best be a solid bat, so he looks more like a stopgap solution.
If the idea of adding Johnson and eventually moving him around the diamond holds appeal to New York, there are some other much more speculative names to consider, too.
MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo noted an interesting suggestion, tweeting that a scout opined that Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers could be an interesting piece. In theory, he could fill in at first while also shoring up a questionable backstop situation down the line. Of course, Lucroy is expected to be widely pursued, and won’t come cheap.
There are some other options out there who could step in temporarily at first before moving to other spots or filling multi-positional utility roles. Trevor Plouffe of the Twins and Luis Valbuena of the Astros have both seen limited action at first in the majors but are primarily third basemen. Neither is particularly cheap. Their availability is questionable at best — especially at this stage of the season. Minnesota can keep Plouffe for another year and already declined to deal him over the winter, while Houston surely hopes to contend and has plenty of uncertainty at the corners (though plenty of options, as well).
There are plenty of players with significant MLB time who are currently awaiting their next opportunity at the Triple-A level with other clubs. Some possibilities include Travis Ishikawa (White Sox), Allen Craig (Red Sox), Jesus Montero and Casey Kotchman (Blue Jays), Jason Rogers (Pirates), Chris Parmelee and Nick Swisher (Yankees), and Tyler Moore (Braves). Casey McGehee of the Tigers would be another possibility, and he’d give the Mets another option at third as well. And don’t look now, but old friend Ike Davis is producing at Triple-A for the Rangers, who don’t have much need for him so long as they remain content with their current options at the major league level.
Then there’s James Loney, who is the type of patient hitter the Mets like in addition to being a polished fielder. He’s putting up typical numbers in the Padres organization — .333/.368/.417 — and might be the most obvious and realistic target. The Rays are paying Loney’s way this year, aside from a pro-rated portion of the MLB minimum, and Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that he can abandon his deal with San Diego if a major league opportunity arises.
We shouldn’t forget that there are still some players kicking around on the open market, though none seem to be particularly promising. Justin Morneau would be a nice fit, but he’s not expected to pick up a bat until June due to elbow surgery and comes with other, more serious health questions. If he is able to return to the field, though, there could be a match, but it’s hard to see him as a viable option for some time.
Jeff Baker, Alberto Callaspo, and Corey Hart all remain free agents, but none have been particularly productive in recent years and it’s not entirely clear whether they’re interested in pursuing new contracts. There’s reason to believe that Michael Morse could have something left in the tank after giving the Pirates solid production in a 45-game run late last year, though he was cut loose by Pittsburgh after just eight plate appearances in 2016. His power numbers have plummeted of late, and he’s not much with the glove, but he’s also done quite a bit with the bat at the major league level.
It’s anyone’s guess how this all turns out, but a temporary fill-in seems most likely at present. Players like Johnson, Loney, and Morse look to be the best bets, as they’d all represent affordable and somewhat flexible assets, buying the Mets some time to see how Duda recovers while GM Sandy Alderson and his front office staff canvass the market for bigger adds.
After all, the biggest rental targets (Edwin Encarnacion? Jose Bautista?) won’t be made available unless and until it’s clear their teams are fully out of contention at the deadline. The best-case scenario may involve the addition of a player who’ll plug the gap now and fill another role upon Duda’s return, making for an efficient acquisition, but even smaller game will be more plentiful come July.
Trouble is, the optimal outcomes may not be plausible — at least during the stretch that a replacement is most needed, and at least for a palatable price. In the final analysis, New York has plenty of possibilities, but also some tough calls ahead.