Danny Valencia, Future Met

Heading into the season, the Mets plan to repeat as National League champions seemed pretty obvious; they were going to beat their opponents with elite starting pitching and an above average offense, hoping those strengths would outweigh their defensive deficiencies and a just-okay bullpen. It was a solid enough plan, and based on their depth chart on Opening Day, we gave them a 51% chance to win the division and a 78% chance to make the postseason. And mostly, those things have played out as expected. The rotation has been fantastic, ranking second best in baseball to this point. The bullpen has been fine, with occasional lapses. The defense has been bad.

But one part of the formula hasn’t really gone according to plan yet; that productive offense hasn’t really come to fruition. To this point, the offense has been a little bit below average, ranking right in the middle of the pack in wRC+ while costing themselves some runs with relatively poor baserunning. And on top of that, the team has distributed their hits in a highly inefficient way, so despite an expected 4.2 runs per game based on their BaseRuns inputs, they are only scoring 3.7 runs per game, third-worst in the majors.

Certainly, health has been part of the problem. First, Travis d’Arnaud went on the DL at the end of April. Then in May, it was Wilmer Flores and and Lucas Duda. June brought David Wright’s DL stint, and more recently, news that he’ll require back surgery that may sideline him for the rest of the season. The infield has ended up as a patchwork group, and with Michael Conforto and Alejandro de Aza not hitting as well as expected, the outfield hasn’t been able to carry the load. And so now, the team is openly talking about making more additions, and not waiting until the trade deadline to do so.

“I think we might need to do something before,” Wilpon said Monday at the Harlem RBI fundraiser in Manhattan. “The deadline is still four, six weeks away. We’ve got to start playing better baseball now.”

Thankfully for the Mets, identifying a potential spot to upgrade is pretty easy. They’re not going to add an outfielder, most likely, given that group is already crowded, and Conforto and de Aza can both be expected to improve in the second half. Neil Walker has been good at second base, and Asdrubal Cabrera is a good enough player at shortstop to not require a replacement. So, the team is left with just the corner infield spots or behind the plate if they want to upgrade the offense.

Jonathan Lucroy is out there if they wanted to make a big splash and upgrade at catcher, but the asking price is reportedly quite high, and it seems more likely that the team will let d’Arnaud — due off the DL today — try to provide an internal upgrade before giving up significant future value for a guy like Lucroy. So, in terms of doing something well before the deadline, the acquisition would almost certainly have to be a corner infielder.

Given the team’s roster construction, a right-handed third baseman who can also play some first base seems like the ideal option. Wright’s injury took one of the team’s better RHBs out of the picture, and acquiring a righty who can move between corner spots could allow the team to effectively run a platoon at 1B, with Wilmer Flores playing third against lefties and some combination of Kelly Johnson, James Loney, and eventually the returning Duda handling first base duties against righties. Those guys aren’t so good that you’d ignore left-handed options if they were available, but if you added a left-handed third baseman to the mix, the team would lean very heavily to that side, especially after Duda’s return, so a right-hander is a better fit.

Unfortunately for the Mets, the teams that would be interested in selling off big league talent in mid-June aren’t exactly overloaded with high-end players. The team already added Johnson from Atlanta, and there isn’t much else to go after there. The Phillies aren’t trading Maikel Franco, especially within the division. The Reds already traded their slugging right-handed third baseman in the off-season. The Brewers are using Aaron Hill at third base, so while he’s right-handed, he’s not exactly the kind of upgrade the Mets are looking for. Likewise Yangervis Solarte over in San Diego and Trevor Plouffe in Minnesota; they would add a body to the pile, but probably aren’t much better than what the team already has.

So, that basically leaves one option. The Oakland A’s are 28-41, and effectively out of the playoff picture in the American League. They also happen to have a right-handed third baseman who has also bounced around the field throughout his career, including logging some first base time the last couple of years. He also turns 32 in a couple of months, so he’s not in the A’s long-term plans, but he’s made some changes to his game that also should make him an attractive trade target for the team. As Jeff Sullivan noted back in February, Danny Valencia is now a legitimate offensive threat, and not just as a platoon guy. Let’s re-visit a table Jeff included in his piece.

Danny Valencia Against Righties, Career
Year(s) PA BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+ GB% IFFB% HR/FB% Hard% Pull%
2010 – 2014 993 5% 21% 0.124 0.264 65 45% 16% 8% 27% 42%
2015 229 5% 25% 0.271 0.329 140 51% 6% 27% 36% 49%

Last year, in a small sample, Valencia hit right-handed pitching for power for the first time in his career. He hasn’t hit them quite as well this year, but he’s been dramatically better against RHPs than he was previously, putting up a 113 wRC+ against them in 2016. As usual, he’s destroying lefties, so even competent production against right-handed pitching makes Valencia a solid everyday player.

Over the last 365 days, Valencia has put up a 140 wRC+, and his overall batting line is almost indistinguishable from some guy named Kris Bryant. We’re still only talking about 118 games, so you don’t want to expect Valencia to continue hitting at this level, but he’s a guy with a career 104 wRC+ who has been markedly better than that recently and looks to have made some improvements that suggest he could perform better than his career numbers for the near future.

In short, Valencia is perfect for the Mets. He’s even under team control for 2017 as well, as he’s got one more trip through arbitration, so he’s not even just a rental, and would give the team an insurance policy for Wright next year. Because he’s a late-bloomer, he’s only making $3.2 million this year, so acquiring him won’t require any kind of budgetary adjustments. And if somehow Wright does come back later this year, well, Valencia has played the outfield too, so he could get some playing time out there if need be.

Valencia is basically perfect for the Mets. He checks every box, and most importantly, is probably already available; Billy Beane has a history of making early trades if he gets what he’s looking for, and the A’s have to know they’re not making any kind of miraculous second-half run this year. And the Mets have exactly the kind of close-to-the-majors prospects that the A’s have been targeting lately; Brandon Nimmo, particularly, looks like a very A’s kind of player.

With a few other teams looking like they might be in the market for a third baseman later this summer, the Mets might have to pay a little bit of a premium to get Valencia from the A’s now. But given the Mets position on the win-curve, giving up a little bit extra in future value to upgrade the current roster is likely justifiable. And if they end up waiting until later in the summer, it’s possible Cleveland, Kansas City, or San Francisco could swoop in and land Valencia for themselves, and as we noted previously, there aren’t a lot of other great options for the Mets on the horizon.

Valencia is exactly what the Mets are looking for. He should be available now, and they have the kinds of excess minor league talent to go get him. So, A’s and Mets, let’s get the hot stove fired up; send Danny Velencia to Queens already. It makes too much sense to not happen.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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7 years ago

Another veteran righty whose hitting improved drastically after going to the Blue Jays.