I like Scott Hairston. I really do. He’s been one of the most pleasant surprises of the year for the Mets, providing pop in an otherwise pop-less lineup while simultaneously being way better than Jason Bay.
Therefore, it hurts to say that the Mets should trade him — that is, if they get the right offer.
1. Playoff contenders want him. This is the most obvious reason. There are plenty of teams out there (i.e. Giants, A’s) who are looking for a bat at the trading deadline. Hairston is a power-hitting outfielder who could give a team a boost in the second half. He’s no Carlos Beltran, but he’s a great option off the bench and is playing as well as he ever has.
At the same time…
2. …the Mets are not playoff contenders. They’re 7 games out in the wild card standings entering tonight’s game, and yes, the Phillies did once erase a similar deficit in 17 games, but that was only because the Mets played — well, a lot like they’re playing now. The point is that these Mets are not built for the postseason — not without 3 of the original 5 members of their pitching staff, and not with the worst bullpen in baseball.
Meanwhile, legitimate contenders will be willing to overpay a bit to pick up a piece that could help them right away. Again, Hairston is no Beltran, so he won’t bring back a Zach Wheeler-caliber player. But he could bring back a B-level prospect, and/or someone who could help the Mets’ bullpen next year — not to mention help it survive the rest of 2012.
3. Hairston won’t be this good next year. Although he’s not as old as he looks — he turned 32 in May — he’s unlikely to continue doing what he’s been doing. From 2007 to 2011, Hairston hit a home run once every 23.3 at-bats. This year, he’s hit a home run once every 18 at-bats. The Mets outfield is awful at the moment, but Hairston is no superstar himself: he has an on-base percentage under .300 and is a below average fielder. The Mets are looking to get better in the long term, and Hairston is not going to suddenly blossom — at least not any more than he has this season. This offseason, he’ll become a free agent and, coming off one of his best years, will likely demand more than he’s worth.
4. The other outfielders will be better next year. This is the one that makes me the most nervous, since Andres Torres, Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jason Bay have all struggled. Torres, who is arbitration eligible, presumably won’t be back in 2013. But it’s too soon to give up on Nieuwenhuis and Duda, who are just 24 and 26, respectively. Both showed positive signs early on, and both have flaws in their swings that hopefully can be fixed in the minors and during the offseason.
Meanwhile, Jordany Valdespin is providing “energy,” “exuberance,” “spark” — and, oh yeah, he’s crushing the ball. Assuming the Mets hang on to Daniel Murphy (they should), Valdespin will continue to play in the outfield, where he is competent. In addition, Matt Den Dekker is at AAA, and once he adjusts to the pitching, the terrific fielder should get a shot in the big leagues.
5. Jason Bay. Bay’s contract extends through 2013 and, no matter how much the fans demand he be exiled to the bench for eternity — or, better yet, cut — the Mets insist on squeezing every last penny, and every last weak groundball, out of him. For several reasons — namely, Bay’s huge contract and the Mets’ ongoing financial unrest — he will probably be back in Queens next spring in some sort of maddening platoon role.
If that’s the case, the outfield becomes crowded, especially in left, where Bay, Valdespin and Duda could each call home. Outfield depth is not the concern. Outfield strength is. The Mets need to figure out who’s going to help them win in 2013, ’14 and beyond, and Hairston, at 32 and not an everyday player, doesn’t fit that bill.
Hairston has done all he could to help the Mets compete this year. Now, it’s time for him to go somewhere he’s truly needed.