Despite the continual charade that Nick Franklin is battling for the starting shortstop role, barring a miraculous turnaround he's going to be served a ticket to Tacoma, or handed a plane ticket to another major league city. The hot stove been remarkably cool, and many of us thought Franklin would already be gone. But there's finally something to talk about. The Mets are set to open the season with the miserable Ruben Tejada at shortstop, and yesterday Adam Rubin confirmed that the Mets have some interest, and that there's a mutual fit in trade discussions.
If the Mets are interested in Franklin, then they believe he can play short at the major league level, which most in Seattle would view as a dubious proposition. If Franklin hits enough to justify the defensive ding at short, then he's certainly a more appealing trade target than he is at second. It's probably a major reason why the M's are letting on that he's in a positional battle with Brad Miller - if his own organization "views him" as a threat, maybe other teams will too.
Seattle is rumored to desire young pitching in return, which isn't a surprise. The Mets have a ton of it, and a lot of it is very good. Despite Matt Harvey being sidelined this year, Zach Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and Rafael Montero all represent a tremendous amount of depth within the organization. Wheeler completed an impressive rookie season with the Mets, and is presumably off-limits unless Seattle steps up something more than Franklin, which it hardly seems like they're in the position to do. Wheeler has been as highly regarded as Walker, and he made it to the bigs and was successful. It's not going to happen.
On to the other potential matches:
Noah Syndergaard: Here's another major stretch. Syndergaard dazzled in AAA last year, compiling a 5.75 K/BB ratio that makes his 11.5 K/9 all the more impressive. He's considered only a notch below Taijuan Walker on top prospect lists, and Nick Franklin alone isn't going to make it work, no matter how desperate the Mets are for a shortstop. Syndergaard has all the makings of a future ace to pair alongside Wheeler and Harvey for the next five years. The Mariners would have to get really creative to make something happen, perhaps bringing in another organization. It would next to impossible to swing.
Rafael Montero: Here's the most commonly floated name, and for good reason. He's currently ranked #85 on MLB.com's top 100, and has managed to rise year by year. He's 23, has a fastball/slurve/change repertoire, and would probably be higher rated if he wasn't so small. He's not that different than Erasmo Ramirez in a lot of ways in that he's only 6 feet, 170 lbs and throws surprising heat from his petite frame. Much like Erasmo, he also hasn't thrown a ton of innings through his career, topping out at 155.1 in 2013. Montero is lauded for his command, walking an average of 1.7 batters per nine innings throughout his minor league career.
In AAA last year, Montero saw his first bit of decline in his K/BB rate, which went from 7.20 in AA to 3.12 as a result of both reduced strikeouts and increased walks. Despite that, he still managed a 3.05 ERA to go along with his 2.87 FIP. Montero has always done a tremendous job keeping the ball in the park, compiling a 0.41 HR/9 in AAA, consistent with his performances through his career.
Both Oliver and ZiPS are bullish on Montero's big league chances this year.
The command is truly Montero's calling card, and he's become a fast riser in the Mets organization, but represents somewhat of a luxury to them. Their pitching depth is in good shape, but shortstop is a Tejada-sized hole.
On paper, this seems to be a great match, even if it's a touch light for the Mariners. Perhaps the Mariners can squeeze another player out of the deal, maybe even...
Juan Lagares: The defensive wizard. Lagares was primarily a center fielder in his rookie year, and his defensive numbers were staggering. +28 in DRS, +21.5 UZR. Lagares gained 13.8 runs of value from his arm alone, and while his sample is less than ideal, both metrics loved him in 2013. His defense was good enough to offset his miserable offense, managing to post 2.9 fWAR despite a 75 wRC+.
Lagares is essentially the center field version of Brendan Ryan. So much so that the Mets are seemingly turning to Eric Young Jr. for their final outfield spot, and while Lagares would be fantastic glove off the bench, he may be expendable.
The problem with endorsing Lagares as the sole return is buying into the defense. All three projection systems project his defense to regress to a certain degree (Steamer has his dWAR at +10, Oliver at +19), but all three project his value to be somewhere between 1.5 to 3 WAR. The most likely aspect of his defense to regress is the ARM rating, since Lagares led all outfielders despite playing 500+ innings less than Alex Gordon, who finished in 2nd.
Lagares would fill a tremendous need for the Mariners, whose current defensive outfield alignment is a bunch of hot garbage, likely about to get worse if they bring back Kendrys Morales. Having a stud to cover acres in center could go a long way in assisting lesser fielders in the corners.
There's an the issue of making things fit, as Lagares would certainly cut into either Dustin Ackley or Michael Saunders' playing time. The Mariners are in such a weird balance of figuring out what they have while trying to win, and the second may rely on the first. If they acquire Lagares, signing Kendrys Morales without trading away Justin Smoak or Logan Morrison just doesn't make much sense, otherwise Lagares, Ackley, and Saunders are all fighting for one spot with Hart and Morrison in the corners. Doesn't work. Once again, the poor roster construction starts to become evident. I don't want to give up on Dustin Ackley. Not yet.
If Lagares could hit even a little, he'd be a fantastic undervalued trade target. But he can't, and there isn't a ton to indicate he's going to get anywhere near 90, let alone 100 wRC+ in the next several years. As a standalone, even with his 2.9 WAR, it's a thin return for a player the Mets value as a shortstop.
There's other names that could make sense as additional pieces, but they aren't of immediate impact. Any deal structured around Nick Franklin seems like it would have to include at least one of Montero or Lagares, and the latter would start a cascading fallout of roster shuffle.
What do you think? Is Rafael Montero enough, or do you want both?