PITTSBURGH — Within the organization, the prevailing belief remains that prospect Dilson Herrera is ready for the major leagues. Meanwhile, T.J. Rivera has continued his uninterrupted assault on the Pacific Coast League.
The Mets could have chosen youth to reinforce their injury-battered roster by promoting Herrera and Rivera — for virtually no cost.
Instead, the Mets on Wednesday revealed their reticence to entrust a season of expectations to unproven commodities. They traded prospect Akeel Morris to the Braves for Kelly Johnson, the familiar but underperforming veteran utilityman who thrived when acquired under similar circumstances last year.
For the second time this season, the Mets have swung a trade relatively early in the baseball calendar, adding Johnson to veteran first baseman James Loney.
“It’s no secret, we have aspirations of winning the whole thing this year,” assistant general manager John Ricco said Wednesday. “So, we’re not going to sit around and wait. We know what this team is, we know what this team can be. And we’re going to give (it) every chance to get there.”
Those aspirations have prompted the Mets to behave differently than they did a year ago, when they weathered similar first-half offensive woes. But they did not get as aggressive in addressing those issues until closer to the trade deadline.
Johnson was hitting a paltry .215 with a .273 on-base percentage with a homer and 12 RBIs in 49 games. But the Mets are banking on seeing the version of the player they employed last year, when he hit .250 with five homers and 13 RBIs following his arrival in a July 24 trade.
“Kelly Johnson brings something to the table that we need, and that’s that presence in (the clubhouse), that guy who’s been through this and was part of the turnaround last year with some huge hits,” manager Terry Collins said. “I think it was a great move.”
Once the 34-year-old Johnson joins the team on Friday, he isn’t being counted upon to singlehandedly inject life into an offense that is scoring a big-league worst 2.8 runs per game since May 12. But Collins indicated that the versatile utilityman will see plenty of time at third base along with Wilmer Flores, who is hitting just .211.
For the luxury of experience, the Mets parted with Morris, the 23-year-old who was 2-2 with a 4.62 ERA and six saves in 22 appearances for Double-A Binghamton.
Morris got rocked in his only big league appearance last season, when he was summoned for a cameo because the Mets bullpen was taxed. But despite control issues, his swing-and-miss stuff has made him intriguing to scouts.
Yet, despite the cost involved, Ricco said acquiring Johnson proved to be the most straightforward solution for the Mets.
While promoting Herrera from Triple-A Las Vegas remains an option, such a move would mean shifting either him or veteran Neil Walker to third base, where neither has significant experience.
Ricco said the Mets determined that the risk of a sudden position shift isn’t worth the potential trickle-down effect it might have on offensive production. Also, the Mets have shown little appetite for experimentation, a direct reflection of their championship aspirations.
“You’re going to be a little more conservative about throwing stuff at the wall,” Ricco said.
Meanwhile, Ricco said the 27-year-old Rivera “remains in the conversation” for a promotion by virtue of his .359 average, the second highest in the PCL.
Rivera’s best position is third base, a need with David Wright out indefinitely. But unlike Johnson, Rivera has never played in the big leagues.
So, the Mets moved on Johnson, motivated partly by the potential of losing him to another contender. It was a concern that did not apply to Rivera, who Ricco said remains a viable alternative if Johnson can’t recapture the magic of last season,
Said Ricco: “That option will still be there.”
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