The Hot Stove hasn’t officially been turned on yet and there are already rumors flying around about who is on the market and who is not. The Mets need outfielders, not new news by any means, and they have a few potential trade partners they’ll be talking to once November rolls around. Over the weekend, we heard that the Diamondbacks were willing to trade just about any outfielder not named Justin Upton, but there are two other players that continue to come up in conversations as options for the Mets to pursue.
Josh Willingham was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise awful season for the Minnesota Twins, as they’ve now racked up back-to-back 90-loss campaigns. In his first season after signing a three-year/$21 million deal last winter, he had one of his best all-around seasons since he made his debut with the Marlins in 2004. Willingham hit .260/.36/.524 with a career high in home runs (35) and RBI (110) while playing half his games in a spacious Target Field in Minneapolis. In his career year, he also posted personal bests for runs scored (85), total bases (272), and walks (76).
He’s a proven power threat from the right side, as he’s registered double-digit home runs in every season since he became an everyday player in 2006, while eclipsing 70+ RBI four times for mostly bad teams (Florida, Washington, Oakland, and Minnesota). He’s a quiet ballplayer who comes to the park ready to go and plays the game hard. Sounds like a great outfielder to nab off the trade market if he’s available.
The other outfielder that is rumored to be available this winter is Shin-Soo Choo of the Indians. After missing significant time in 2011 and only appearing in 85 games, Choo came back to put together a strong campaign in 2012, hitting .283/.373/.441 with 16 home runs and 67 RBI. He is a solid overall hitter, as he’s posted three .300 seasons and hit 20+ homers and driven in 85+ runs on two occasions. Although Choo has the potential to hit 20 bombs and drive in 90, he strikes out just as often as Willingham does, but without producing as much.
So, which outfielder would fit better into the Mets’ plans? That guess is as good as anyone’s. Acquiring either one of these players in a trade would be a supreme upgrade to the current outfield situation in New York, but I think Willingham would be a better overall fit for the Amazins. That’s easy to say since he’s coming off career highs in multiple offensive categories, but he fits in a few other ways as well. For his production last season, paying $7 million a year for his services is a steal, and he would give the Mets that right-handed power bat they so desperately needed a few months ago. Plus, it just so happens the Twins are likely looking to slash a little payroll and are thin at shorstop and starting pitcher (cough, Wilmer Flores and any young Mets starter not named Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler, cough).
As for Choo and the Indians, his availability in the trade market will depend on what new manager Terry Francona thinks of him. Cleveland could use some young starting pitching talent (I mean, let’s be honest, who couldn’t) and that’s the one area where the Mets seem to have a surplus of talent right now. However, even though Choo is coming off a one-year/$4.9 million deal and is second-year arbitration eligible, he will become a free agent in 2014, right before the Mets will really need him. The biggest kicker is that Scott Boras is his agent, so you know what that means. To put the nail in the coffin for me, Choo is left-handed and hit .199 against southpaws in 206 at-bats last season. Willingham didn’t fare much better (.231 vs LHP in ’12), but he hit 15 homers and drove in 37 runs against them, whereas Choo only hit 2 bombs and drove in 13.
So, in a perfect world, I would go after Josh Willingham first because he gives the Mets everything they desire and more; he’s a right-handed, power-hitting, corner outfielder that can legitimately protect David Wright and Ike Davis for the next two seasons, at a reasonable price. We’ve been hearing that 2014 as the logical timeframe as to when we’ll see New York be competitive again, and I’d rather see Willingham on the team in his walk year instead of trying to find another outfielder the winter before since Boras has put too high of a price tag on Choo. Now, we’ll see if the Twins do actively shop him, and what the price will be.