Wilmer Flores — the utility infielder who became a fan favorite for the time he cried during a game, his late-inning dramatics and his choice of walk-up song — no longer is a member of the Mets.
The Mets opted not to tender Flores a contract in advance of the Friday deadline to do so, making him a free agent a year ahead of schedule.
All of the Mets’ other pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players — including catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery — were tendered contracts. The rest of the arbitration-eligibles were easy choices, mere formalities: Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Michael Conforto, Steven Matz and Kevin Plawecki.
Flores’ sudden unemployment isn’t so sudden, given his growing salary (he would have received a raise from the $3.4 million he made in 2018), average bat (.267/.319/.417 in 2018) and defensive shortcomings. And with the Mets closing in on a trade with the Mariners to bring in second baseman Robinson Cano, their 2018 rookie sensation, Jeff McNeil, stands to move into a utility role. Flores, 27, became expendable.
Despite not having a primary defensive position and carving a niche as only a bench player, Flores was popular among fans thanks to a brand built on two pillars: his franchise-record 10 walk-off RBIs and his intense commitment to the Mets.
The latter is best exemplified by the goings-on of July 29, 2015. The Mets had an agreement to send Flores and Wheeler to the Brewers for Carlos Gomez, and as word of the not-yet-official deal filtered down to fans in the stands — then to Flores on the field — Flores shed tears in the dugout and at shortstop, emotional about leaving the organization he signed with as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2007. The trade famously fell through when the Mets had concerns about Gomez’s medical history, and Flores remained a Met.
In six seasons in the majors, Flores has a .262/.303/.424 slash line and has played all over the infield, including a lot of shortstop during the Mets’ 2015 World Series run. In September 2016, he changed his walk-up music to the Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There for You,” best known as the “Friends” theme song.
Once one of the Mets’ top prospects — and a consensus top-100 prospect in baseball circa 2009-11 — Flores made his major-league debut on his 22nd birthday, Aug. 6, 2013. He played in at least 100 games each of the past four seasons, most of that coming against lefthanders, against whom he owns a career .265/.309/.471 slash line.
Those who were tendered contracts don’t have set salaries yet, nor does it guarantee that they will play for the Mets in 2019. But they do begin the arbitration process. In the next couple of months, the team and each player will exchange desired salary figures, then either meet in the middle or have independent arbitrators pick one number or the other.
Along with Flores, d’Arnaud was a question mark. D’Arnaud spent almost all of 2018 rehabbing after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right (throwing) elbow, but general manager Brodie Van Wagenen recently said he is expected to be ready for Opening Day, about 50 weeks after his surgery.
Van Wagenen said at the GM meetings in early November that with d’Arnaud, Plawecki and Tomas Nido on the 40-man roster, the Mets are “covered” at catcher.
“We’re in a fortunate position that we don’t have to do anything in the catcher market,” said Van Wagenen, who still might do something. “We’ll continue to talk to free agents at that position and others and then also exploring trades. But we can go into camp right now feeling like we have that position covered.”