Around the Horn: Corner infielders
While Wright is a rock at third, questions surround Davis at first
With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Port St. Lucie, Fla., by Feb. 15, it's time to continue dissecting the Mets' 2014 roster. This is the fourth of a seven-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at the Mets' projected starters and backup options heading into the season. Next up: corner infielders.
NEW YORK -- On one corner of the infield is a model of stability, the rock of the franchise. On the opposite corner is the most polarizing and enigmatic player on the Mets.
The former, of course, is third baseman David Wright, the captain of the Mets and their best all-around player. Though Wright is not immune from questioning heading into the 2014 season, he is the closest thing the Mets have to a sure thing on their roster.
The latter is Ike Davis, the presumed favorite to start at first base over Lucas Duda and Josh Satin. A wildly talented player prone to massive slumps, Davis is entering what could be his final chance to be an everyday big league player.
While Davis is busy drawing constant scrutiny this spring, Wright will quietly go about his business, readying himself for Opening Day. Though significant injuries have slowed Wright twice in the past three regular seasons, he still managed a .292/.378/.481 slash line over that period, with 53 homers and 45 stolen bases. That's the baseline of what the Mets can expect from him this year, with continued strong defense at third base. (After a few down years at the position, Wright has re-established himself as one of the game's top defensive third basemen.)
The most significant issue with Wright is health. Remarkably durable over his first seven big league seasons, Wright has averaged only 123 games per year since 2011. The injuries have ranged from a stress fracture in his lower back to various muscle pulls, but they have generally all been serious.
Keeping Wright healthy in his age-31 season will be critical for the Mets, who are not close to the same team without him in the lineup.
"Losing is unacceptable in my book," Wright said earlier this month. "It's unacceptable in the fans' book, and I want them to know that ... this is only kind of the beginning. It's going to be fun when we get to that point where we're a playoff team each year."
On the other side of the diamond, health is not the issue; Davis is long since recovered from the various maladies that plagued him in 2011-12 and from the oblique strain that forced him out of the lineup last September. The issue is consistency for the former first-round Draft pick, who has opened each of the past two seasons in a massive slump.
In 2012, Davis narrowly avoided a Minor League demotion, recovering well enough to bash a career-high 32 homers. But a year later, Davis could not escape a demotion. Though his offense did improve upon his return, Davis never regained his power stroke and spent the season's final month on the disabled list, finishing with a .205 average and nine home runs.
"That's life, man," Davis said earlier this offseason. "You can't just sit there and cry -- you've just got to move on. Like this year -- I'm not going to sit here and pout because I've been bad. No, I'm going to work my butt off and see if I can be better next year. That's the only way to live life."
Though Davis will need to beat out Duda for the starting first-base job, his track record in the big leagues gives him the early edge.
It is, however, an advantage that Duda could certainly overcome with a strong spring. Somewhat inconsistent himself over his first four big league seasons, Duda hit 15 home runs in 385 plate appearances last year, but he batted only .223 and endured a Minor League demotion of his own. If Duda does not win the first-base job over Davis, he could either shift to the bench -- a part-time return to the outfield remains possible -- or head back to Triple-A Las Vegas.
And whoever earns the starting spot at first base may have to platoon with Satin, who hit .317 with an .880 OPS against left-handed pitching last year. Satin also profiles as the Mets' primary backup at third behind David Wright -- though if the Mets have their way, Wright will easily play more than 150 games at the position.