October 11, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Baltimore Orioles left fielder Nate McLouth (9) hits a home run during the fifth inning of game four of the ALDS against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE

Rising Apple Hypotheticals: Rebuilding the Outfield via Free Agency

We’ve said it here on Rising Apple many times, as have most other Mets Blogs and news outlets; New York needs to overhaul their outfield. What looked to be a strength for the team in the first half of 2012 ended up being their biggest weakness by the time the final out was made. Alderson has stated he’d like to bring in some more productive players through trades, using their starting pitching depth and young offensive players as bargaining chips. However, what if Sandy isn’t able to make the deals he wants to make?

Although he’s not anticipated to pursue many of this winter’s free agents heavily, doesn’t mean I can’t start my own rumors! The current outfielders on the Mets’ roster include Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda, Jason Bay, Jordany Valdespin, Andres Torres, and Mike Baxter. For all intents and purposes, we can assume Torres won’t be back in the Orange and Blue since he’ll likely be non-tendered, making him a free agent. So, that’s one problem child off our back. Unfortunatley, that still leaves a few.

I like how Terry Collins saw the value in Valdespin’s athleticism and was able to use him in the outfield; it not only helped the Mets when they needed some depth there, but could also make him more marketable to potential trade suitors as he continues to mature. However, his future with this organization is in the infield; therefore, this man should be solely playing second base. If Daniel Murphy is dealt for relief pitching or a catcher, he should get the opportunity to start. If Murph sticks around for 2013, then Valdespin should be playing 2B everyday for Wally Backman in Triple-A.

There are no words for Bay. I see the point in bringing him into Spring Training to see if he has any value, but there is no point in holding onto him if he continues to show no signs of life. It’s tough cutting loose $19 million (including buyout), but the fact that he takes up a roster spot for someone who could be more productive is much worse. Mike Baxter showed he was capable of being productive with more playing time before he got hurt in June, but he’s more of a fourth outfielder/late game replacement. Lucas Duda is the one that shows the most promise, obviously because the dude is country strong.

If the team isn’t able to bring in a more proven centerfielder, New York is comfortable with giving Kirk Nieuwenhuis the starting job heading into 2013. With the poor overall showing from the outfield in 2012, why make any of these outfielders comfortable heading into Spring Training? Their place on the team should by no means be a guarantee, and they could use some good old fashion competition in February and March.

There are three free agent outfielders that could be a fit for New York if they aren’t able to trade for someone like Justin Upton or Josh Willingham. The first man looking for a job is someone I’ve been talking about for a while now, and I’m going to keep talking about him until someone tells me to stop; Grady Sizemore. He’s been hurt in recent years and his production has dropped off considerably, but he’s the kind of player that could use a fresh start to rejuvenate his career. This is a guy that has three All-Star selections, two Gold Gloves in centerfield, a silver slugger award, and has put together four 20+ homers and 20+ steals in a season. Coming off an injury in 2011, he took a one-year/$5 million flyer in Cleveland to try and prove his worth again, but missed all of 2012 with a back injury. So, his value is incredibly low; low enough where I think the Mets could scoop him on a $1-2 million deal, maybe even a minor league deal with an invite to Big League camp, and could see big results if he’s able to stay on the field.

Another available centerfielder that probably won’t be commanding a lot of money this winter is Nate McLouth. He resurrected his career in Baltimore last year, hitting .268/.342/.435 in 55 games, then hit .318 in the ALDS against the Yankees. It’s been a tough road for McLouth since he went to the All-Star game in 2008 and won a Gold Glove, but things may be looking up for him after his strong showing with the O’s. However, it wasn’t enough of a sample for teams to feel comfortable making a major investment in him. So, he’ll likely be looking for another one-year deal in the range of the $1.75 million he got in 2012 to prove himself one more time.

Finally, free agent Reed Johnson would be a great fit for the Mets as a fourth outfielder that can hit from the right side. Although he’s mostly been a reserve throughout his career, he’s appeared in 100+ games in the last three seasons. Scott Hairston won’t be returning to Flushing, so New York needs someone to take his place. While Johnson won’t be replacing his power, he’s a solid defender at all three outfield positions, has the ability to play everyday if needed, and can be a sparkplug at the top of the lineup.

As of right now, the 2013 starting outfield for the New York Mets may very well be: Jason Bay in left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center, and Lucas Duda in right. Two out of those three don’t give me agita, but if Alderson isn’t able to make the trades he wants, he needs to bring in some players that are hungry and willing to make all three of these incumbents earn their starting job, because none of them have proven themselves by any means.

In the end, let’s hope Sandy makes a trade to improve this part of the roster, whether he does the impossible and deals Bay, or packages Duda with some starting pitching to bring back a power bat. However, if he isn’t able to, the man has plenty of inexpensive options that could yield big rewards.

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Tags: Grady Sizemore Kirk Nieuwenhuis Nate McLouth New York Mets Reed Johnson

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