When the Mets made Ike Davis available via trade, they probably received a lot of phone calls. He’s not as young as you might think; 2014 will be his age 27 season. But he has a track record of good power and a patient approach at the plate, and was fairly useful from 2010 through 2012. His story smacks a little of Chris Davis, who experienced a massive breakout in his age 27 season. Some team will want to take a shot on the Mets’ Davis.
At this point in the offseason, the list of teams with playing time available at first base is fairly short, which further complicates things for the Mets. As many as 10 teams could find a role for Davis, but only one wouldn’t be looking at him as a platoon player. That team is the Milwaukee Brewers. Unsurprisingly, their name has come up often connecting them with the Davis. Thus far, nothing has materialized.
The problem is that the Mets are supposedly asking for a lot. They want a major league-ready young pitcher—Tyler Thornburg‘s name has come up as an example. But similar players have been traded for much less.
As FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris pointed out about a month ago, Logan Morrison has a similar profile to Davis and he was recently traded for Carter Capps. While Capps is an interesting player—he throws a fastball than averages between 95 and 98 mph and has a big strikeout rate to go with it — his on-field results have been poor. So the Marlins acquired a project who may have a future as a closer or setup reliever. That return is quite a long way from a decent starter like Thornburg.
Perhaps the Marlins just received a poor return or else really liked Capps? Either circumstance is possible, but when the Rangers traded their Davis, they packaged him with Tommy Hunter for a season and a half of old, injury-prone, and not-yet-reliable Koji Uehara. The Rangers’ Davis failed harder at the major league level than the Mets’ Davis, but that particular trade seems to reinforce the notion that a decent reliever is the right target.
Another problem with asking so much of the Brewers is that they don’t appear to be at the right place in the win curve. Player acquisitions are most valuable when the new player is helping the team win between 81 and 95 games. In the Brewers’ case, they appear to be playing for a win total in the mid-70s. An extra win or two off Davis’ bat is not going to change the outcome of their season. A breakout performance would be fantastic for the Brewers, but that is a very low probability outcome.
If that’s the best the Mets can do, they’re saying, they will stand pat. Unfortunately, that takes playing time away from Davis and Lucas Duda, further retarding the development of both players.
Duda is quite similar to Davis; they both project to bat around .230/.330/.415, which are unimpressive rates for a first baseman. Duda is a year older, but he’s also substantially cheaper (as much as $2 million less in 2014), which may explain the Mets’ preference. The Mets could continue trying to use Duda in the outfield, where he’s terrible defensively, but that just blocks the development of other players.
More likely, the Mets will enter spring training and hope that a contender has to replace an injured first baseman. That would give the club additional leverage in trade talks, which might be enough to extort a starter in return for Davis. Alternatively, the Mets could shift their attention to trading Duda for a reliever or simply trade neither player and relegate one to the bench.
First base isn’t the only position where the Mets are playing roster chicken. They have taken to trumpeting their satisfaction with incumbent shortstop Ruben Tejada, but they’re clearly the best fit for free agent Stephen Drew. As with the Brewers and Davis, adding Drew does very little to improve the Mets’ dismal playoff odds, so they’re obviously in no rush to meet the demands of Scott Boras.
Both roster dilemmas have been developing in slow motion, and that could continue throughout the remainder of January.