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Mets Infield: Depth Chart Discussions

 Jordany Valdespin

For a team that’s in a highly transitional period like the Mets, their infield situation is surprisingly set. Unlike their complete mess of an outfield, starters at all five infield positions are pretty easy to nail down.

But just because we know who is starting on Opening Day hardly means that it will be the same player throughout the season, and nowhere is that more apparent than at catcher. John Buck is clearly nothing more than a placeholder for top prospect Travis D’Arnaud, and if Buck is still starting for this team past July then something has gone horrible, miserably wrong. Since it’s the Mets, that’s always possible, and Buck should get the majority of the playing time for at least the first few weeks of the season. You know what he is by now, and that’s a one-category player who will provide his fair share of power while killing you absolutely everywhere else. Behind him, Anthony Recker is just a Quad-A type who merits no fantasy consideration whatsoever.

D’Arnaud is clearly the future here, and he ranks as the rare catcher who has the potential to hit .300 with 20 home runs. That’s a valuable commodity indeed, and he’s immensely desirable in keeper leagues. For 2013 only, however, expectations should be tempered. It remains uncertain at what point the Mets choose to promote him, and D’Arnaud needs to show that he’s fully healthy after the knee injury that cost him a chunk of time last season. It’s worth noting that both Jason Catania and Al Skorupa have written here recently that D’Arnaud may be getting overrated in redraft leagues simply because of the expectations placed upon him, so take caution before counting on him for this season.

At first base, Ike Davis overcame a serious ankle injury and a bout with Valley Fever to have what looked like a breakout year, hitting 32 homers, good for fifth best among first basemen. But that masks the fact that the power was basically all he provided, giving him a .331 wOBA that placed him between Mark Reynolds & Jordan Pacheco. A .308 OBP is bad; a .227 batting average is arguably worse. Davis has always been a swing-and-miss type, and that will always damage his average, but there is considerable reason for hope here.

For one, the Valley Fever he contracted last year impacted him through the first part of the season; as Colin Zarzycki explained in October, Davis hit .158/.234/.273 through June 8 and .265/.347/.565 from then on. For another, even a slow-footed type like Davis isn’t likely to repeat a .246 BABIP over a full season again, especially not with an ever-increasing line drive rate. Davis may carry extra appeal since many fantasy leaguers will be scared off by his lousy rate stats, not understanding that the Davis of April & May last year bore little resemblance to the one who destroyed the ball in the second half. First base is a much shallower position than it used to be, and hitters with 30-homer potential are more difficult to find.

Second base would belong to Daniel Murphy, except that he’s missed all of camp with a strained intercostal muscle and has yet to play in a single game. He’s expected to get back on the field next week and should still be the primary player at the keystone, but there’s limited fantasy value here. Sure, he hit .291, but it was a very empty average — in over 600 plate appearances, he contributed only six homers and 10 steals. The year before, it was only six homers and five steals. Murphy has now lost the outfield and third base eligibility he once had, and considering that his spring injury and generally poor defense potentially put his playing time in danger… well, it’s hard to recommend him outside of NL-only leagues. He’s batting average, and not much else.

Double-play partner Ruben Tejada isn’t much better. He’s nice for the Mets because he’s cheap and he can play some defense, but there’s almost no fantasy appeal here. In 501 plate appearances, he somehow managed just a single homer and four steals. Due to his position and his defense, he was a two-win player, but he’s basically the definition of a player who is more valuable in real life than in fantasy. Eno Sarris tried to wishcast Tejada last fall, and even at his best could only come up to…

Let’s say he plays to his best walk rates, though (8.6% and 9.3% in his first two years), and the Mets put him in the second spot in the order, and he stays healthy all year, and he shows that same line drive rate, and he gets the commensurate nice BABIP, and the Mets offense improves some… You might get a .295 hitter with 80+ runs, 40+ RBI, one or two home runs, and five or six stolen bases in 650ish plate appearances.

According the Zach Sanders’ calculator, that would have been worth $4 in 2012 and would have made Ruben Tejada the 19th-best fantasy shortstop in 5×5 leagues, just a hair above the decrepit Rafael Furcal.

…and that’s all you really need to know.

That brings us around to David Wright, who bounced back from 2011’s back injury to post his best wOBA since 2008, back when he was still a superstar. I say that not to degrade Wright, who had the fifth-best wOBA of any third baseman last year, but because he’s not the player he once was.  Last year’s .376 mark was still only his fifth highest, behind his 2005-08 peak, and he’s topped last year’s 21 homers and 93 RBI just once since 2009, when it used to be automatic.

Again, that’s not to bash on what was a very good .306/.391/.492 season. It’s just to understand that Wright has become more of a second-tier third baseman in fantasy, behind the Miguel Cabreras & Adrian Beltres of the world, and so he should be valued accordingly. Wright still gets his double-digit steals — though again, less than he used to – and as he heads into his age-30 season, he should still have several good years ahead of him. As long as you value him properly and not as the easy top-ten pick he used to be, you’ll draft him and be very happy you did so.

As for the infield backups, there’s not surprisingly little to choose from, in part because the roster is so unsettled. Justin Turner doesn’t play a lot or offer much in the way of steals or homers when he does. Omar Quintanilla, if he makes the team, is your typical no-bat backup infielder. Jordany Valdespin might end up seeing more time in the outfield than the infield, but he’s at least somewhat intriguing because he could be eligible at several spots and did manage to pop eight homers last year. He also had a .286 OBP, so you can probably do better. Zach Lutz? Only if you’re exceptionally desperate, or in a 30 Rock-only league.