By Ernie Palladino
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Even with a surplus of desirable talent, it is still hard for the Mets to make a deal.
Such is their dilemma. They need an upgrade at shortstop. The Cubs have shortstops in spades. What they don’t have is pitching.
The Mets have pitching that seems to ooze out of every pore.
But according to the New York Post, the chances of a Windy City-Big Apple exchange of talent is remote. All-Star Starlin Castro won’t be coming here. Neither will prospect Javier Baez, or fellow prospect Addison Russell.
Any one of those guys would have looked better in a Mets uniform than Wilmer Flores. Unfortunately for the Mets — and doesn’t it always seem to work this way with struggling teams — the Cubs’ interests conflict with the Mets’. They had one of the faultiest rotations in baseball last year, with starters logging just 927 inning pitched. One would think landing more than one starting pitcher would be a priority.
But their eyes, like those of the Mets, are on offense.
Apparently uninterested in a young talent like Noah Syndergaard or a young veteran like Jon Niese, the Cubs apparently are willing to hand over $20 million per year for free agent pitcher Jon Lester if they can outbid the Red Sox and Braves.
Even if they can’t, they’re focusing on offense, which is exactly where the Mets have to keep theirs if they expect to turn those new right field dimensions in their favor.
Unless they land someone like Stephen Drew, they will probably have to stick with Flores, a player who has had question marks in the field, and wouldn’t help them a great deal with his bat. Flores appeared in 78 games at shortstop last year, and he did provide six homers. But the Mets would like someone who can produce a better slash line than .251/.286/.378.
An entity like Castro, for instance, went .292/.339/.438. Of course, he also went to the All-Star game. But Alexei Ramirez, who might be pried from the White Sox for the right talent combination, had a .273/.305/.408 slash, which ranked seventh among major league shortstops. Sandy Alderson would have to battle Yanks’ GM Brian Cashman, among others, to swing that deal, however.
The Rangers could use pitching, and they have a wonderful, 26-year-old shortstop in Elvis Andrus. But he’s early in a very expensive contract, and you know the Mets when it comes to money.
Meanwhile, new hitting coach Kevin Long is tinkering with a player who definitely fits into the Mets’ plans for next year. He’s changing the left-handed Curtis Granderson’s swing, ostensibly to cut down on strikeouts and raise an anemic .227, 20-homer total.
“His hands were moving more than they did when he was with the Yankees,” said Long, who was Granderson’s hitting coach across town. “We’ll quiet them down a little bit. They’re not really getting into a strong position consistently.”
Long will also schedule some winter work with David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud, and will work to improve Lucas Duda’s issues against left-handed pitching. Duda hit just .180 with two homers and 10 RBI against southpaws last year.
Still, getting that upgrade at shortstop would be another step in the right direction. The Mets did well in plucking free agent Michael Cuddyer, player who can hit for average and power when healthy and a well-regarded locker room guy. If he can stay away from injuries, he’ll make for a nice piece next to Granderson and Juan Lagares.
Finding a shortstop would just about complete the offensive shopping list.
The Cubs have three of those. They need pitching. But surprisingly, nothing the Mets have to offer seems interesting enough to move one of them.
At least not yet.
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