Posted on May 24, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The New York Mets’ worst fears regarding first baseman Lucas Duda were confirmed on Monday when they officially placed him on the DL with a stress fracture in his back. The timetable for Duda’s return is uncertain, with manager Terry Collins saying he’ll be out at least four to six weeks. However, a similar injury cost David Wright nine weeks during the 2011 season, so it’s possible Duda could be out even longer, leaving the Mets scrambling to find a long-term replacement.
“We’re looking at a fairly long period before he’s gonna be able to get back and do some baseball stuff,” Collins said Monday. “He’s a huge piece of our team. This guy is a legitimate big bat in the middle of our lineup, so somebody’s got to step up and pick up some of that load. We don’t have a kind of a guy that’s gonna hit 25 to 30 [home runs], but we’ve got to space it out amongst everybody else.”
Mets’ assistant GM John Ricco also chimed in, saying, “The bone has to heal, and the doctors don’t have an exact time frame for when that would happen. So it is weeks, and kind of a guess right now as to how long that will take. It varies from person to person, but you can’t give it a time frame.”
At the moment, Eric Campbell is filling in at first base, but he is hitting just .200 and doesn’t have the power to fill Duda’s shoes. The Mets are hopeful that Wilmer Flores will be able to return from the DL on Friday and become Duda’s primary replacement. However, Flores was hitting just .180 before going to the DL and lacks experience at first base despite flashing promise in a couple appearances there earlier this season.
Meanwhile, most of the Mets’ roster appears to be a candidate to fill in if necessary. David Wright has offered to play first base if needed; outfielder Alejandro de Aza has started taking ground balls at first base; outfielder Michael Conforto played some first base in college and may start doing pre-game work there; utility man Ty Kelly, who has replaced Duda on the roster after hitting .391 in triple-A, could play first base but has limited experience there; and catcher Kevin Plawecki also has some experience at first base, but probably won’t see time there until Travis d’Arnaud, who is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, returns to the lineup.
The Mets have also passed on moving Neil Walker to first base and promoting Dilson Herrera to play second base. The team has also been quick to dispel any thought that Dominic Smith, one of the top first base prospects in baseball, would be an option, as the 20-year old has just 42 games of experience above A-ball.
With New York’s many options at first base being underwhelming or far from ideal, and Duda’s time frame for a return unsettled, the Mets may be forced to look outside the organization for help at first base. Ricco even admitted Monday that the team will not be able to replace Duda’s production and constant threat of power internally. Assuming Flores returns as scheduled on Friday, he’ll get a fair shot at being the permanent first baseman while Duda remains on the shelf. But if that doesn’t work, the Mets may soon find themselves exploring the trade market for a first baseman.