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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Jose Reyes’ signing might be lighting fire under Wilmer Flores

New York Mets third baseman Wilmer Flores hits

New York Mets third baseman Wilmer Flores hits a two-run home run against the Chicago Cubs during the fifth inning of an MLB baseball game at Citi Field on Sunday, July 3, 2016. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Wilmer Flores had another memorable performance Sunday at Citi Field, this time without shedding a tear. He homered twice in a 14-3 rout of the Cubs, and his six hits tied Edgardo Alfonzo for the Mets’ single-game record.

The standing ovations, the ‘Wil-mer! Flo-res!” chants, again reminded us of his cult-hero status, branded a year earlier, by the on-field waterworks and heart-tugging rebound after peering into the Milwaukee abyss.

What we don’t know — and neither do the Mets at the moment — is whether Flores can be part of the solution at third base. That skepticism prompted the front office to take the low-risk gamble a week ago on the still-percolating Jose Reyes reunion. But will splitting time between Flores and Reyes at the position vacated by the injured David Wright be an adequate patch job for the defending NL champs?

When confronted by that question, the Mets choose to look at it this way: They still have roughly a month — exactly 24 games — to figure out the answer before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. And after Flores’ career day, with Reyes expected at some point this week, it’s a decision that could go down to the wire.

Right now, the Mets view some of the potential trade candidates — such as the A’s Danny Valencia or the Padres’ Yangervis Solarte — as modest upgrades from in-house talent. And while they’re still in the mix for Cuban star Yulieski Gourriel, paying $50 million for a relative unknown isn’t quite Sandy Alderson’s style.

At the very least, maybe the Reyes threat will spur Flores to more consistent production at the plate. The Mets stripped him of the shortstop job by signing Asdrubal Cabrera in December and traded for Neil Walker to deny him any shot at second base. After Lucas Duda went down, they grabbed James Loney. When Wright was lost, Alderson reached out to Reyes, who had just served a 52-game suspension for domestic-abuse allegations.

After all that, there is a sense that signing Reyes stung him the most.

“Not my choice,” Flores said after Sunday’s game. “I’m here to play.”

He should be ticked off. Flores played 127 games last season, including 103 at short — not his best position — and batted a serviceable .263 with 16 home runs. With Daniel Murphy gone, Flores then became the primary backup at the corner spots, and had to believe he’d be given the third-base duties when Wright needed surgery to remove a herniated disc in his neck. Although Flores hit .289 (22-for-76) in June, with 12 RBIs in 26 games, the Mets scooped up Reyes and began converting him to a third baseman.

Obviously, Flores is a favorite of the fans. The Mets’ front office? Not so much. It’s nothing personal; it’s just that they’re not in the development business anymore at the major-league level. And that makes it difficult to be patient with Flores, 24. Before Sunday, his slash line of .224/.291/.336 didn’t feel like something the Mets could live with for a corner infield spot. But if Flores somehow flicked a switch Sunday, then the team’s decision-makers would be OK with an extended audition as Reyes gets up to speed.

“In order to have an idea what a guy’s going to do,” Terry Collins said, “he’s got to play.”

Flores is lucky that Reyes is taking longer than expected to get ready at Double-A Binghamton. The Mets would like to have the switch-hitting Reyes in the leadoff spot — Curtis Granderson already has quietly slipped to No. 2 — to add his base-stealing ability to an otherwise stationary lineup. But they still view third base as a timeshare that can include Flores, with Reyes helping out at other positions, too, if necessary.

Flores, of course, could have a very big role in how this plays out over the next month. The Mets think they know what they have in Flores. It’s up to him to change their minds.

“I don’t think players are naive,” Collins said, suggesting that Flores hears Reyes’ footsteps. They’re getting louder, and the trade deadline is fast approaching. The future, for Flores, is now.


Wilmer Flores’ big day at the plate:









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