Mets' front office shifting to prioritize defense

Recent injuries to pitching staff push fielding into focus

Mets' front office shifting to prioritize defense

NEW YORK -- For the third consecutive season and the eighth time in nine years, the Mets did not have a Gold Glove Award winner. This year, they did not even have a finalist at any of the nine positions, robbing Tuesday's announcement of any drama for them.

Chalk that up to bad luck, bad health or just plain bad defense, but it's not something that could have surprised the Mets. General manager Sandy Alderson admitted recently that the front office has not made defense a top priority during his tenure -- something that has already begun to change.

"When your pitchers aren't striking everybody out, as we've had the benefit of in the past, the defense becomes a little more important," Alderson said in September, adding that the Mets must have "a recognition after this year that if we're going to have pitching that puts the ball in play a little more, then the defense is going to have to be more of a priority."

There is no sugarcoating a season that saw the Mets rank last in the Majors with minus-73 Defensive Runs Saved, 18 percent worse than the next-closest team. Although the Mets fared somewhat better in Ultimate Zone Rating, that catch-all metric still painted them as a negative defensive club. Prefer traditional statistics? The Mets committed 92 errors, their most since 2014.

Cabrera's barehanded play

Much of the damage occurred on the left side of the infield, where the Mets proved significantly below-average at both shortstop and third base. So it is at those positions that their hopes for a quick turnaround reside. While shortstop Amed Rosario committed six errors in 45 games following his Aug. 1 debut, he rates as perhaps the Mets' second-best defender behind outfielder Juan Lagares. At third base, the Mets will either turn back to Asdrubal Cabrera, a natural shortstop who will no longer have to familiarize himself with the position on the fly, or they will shift Cabrera to second and import a free agent -- presumably a natural third baseman.

Consider that a change in thinking, too. For years, Alderson's front office has focused on offense before defense, frequently starting players such as Cabrera, Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores out of position. As a result, the Mets struggled during an era in which teams began placing increasing emphasis on defense, due in part to the birth of technology and metrics capable of tracking and measuring it with greater accuracy.

When they formed their offense-first philosophy, the Mets gambled that their elite pitching staff would limit balls in play, giving them more margin for error on defense. But as injuries ravaged the staff, the opposite became true and the Mets began to falter.

Nimmo's diving grab

Only recently did Alderson's comments provide an indication that the team is ready to change, particularly now with Rosario, Dominic Smith and Brandon Nimmo primed to play larger roles.

It may not mean any Gold Glove Awards in the near future, but even marginal improvement at key positions could be enough.

"I'm hopeful that the defense will be improved," Alderson said. "But it's always a balance across the board. It's kind of … how good is the team on a net-net basis? That's the balance we have to strive for year-to-year."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.