June 8, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis (9) and second baseman Jordany Valdespin (1) misplay a fly ball off of New York Yankees shortstop Jayson Nix (not pictured) during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium. Yankees won 9-1. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The Outfield Situation & Potential Targets for 2014

The Outfield Saga-

The 2013 season hasn’t begun, but it appears that the Mets may head into it with Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Collin Cowgill, Mike Baxter, and Andrew Brown as their group of outfielders.  Instead of sinking into self loathing and despair, let’s quickly go over how the Mets got here before examining what’s likely to happen.

After observing the since concluded Justin Upton situation, there are a few reasons to believe that Sandy Alderson had more than one toe in the pool as far as a potential trade was concerned.  The Mets didn’t re-sign Scott Hairston due in large part to the fact that they wouldn’t guarantee him more than a part time role.  In addition, Alderson kept hinting in interviews that while he wouldn’t guarantee it, he expected an outfield addition before spring training.  Lastly, the Mets engaged the Diamondbacks several different times to discuss a potential deal for Upton.

However, according to MLB.Com’s Anthony DiComo, the Diamondbacks held firm and refused to deal Upton to the Mets for any package that didn’t include Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey, or Travis d’Arnaud.  It’s likely that Alderson attempted to either build a deal around Jonathon Niese and/or a package of other prospects, but Arizona preferred to deal Upton for a player who’s a free agent after the year (Martin Prado) and four non-impact prospects.  In my opinion, Kevin Towers made a foolish mistake.  Earlier in the offseason, Alderson attempted to pry outfield prospect Wil Myers from the Royals for R.A. Dickey, but they too balked and eventually dealt Myers to Tampa Bay.

I understand that fans are growing frustrated, both with the pace of the Mets’ rebuilding process, and with Sandy Alderson’s often ill-timed one liners about the state of the outfield.  The jokes may rub some people the wrong way, but levity can be a good thing sometimes.  Here’s how I see it: Aside from Josh Hamilton, there were no can’t miss outfield bats out there this off-season (I’m not counting B.J. Upton and his .298 OBP).  With the Mets unlikely to contend in 2013, there really wasn’t a reason for them to sign a stopgap such as Ryan Ludwick.  So, Alderson attempted to make a high upside move (Justin Upton, Wil Myers) that would’ve improved the club both this year and for the long haul.  It didn’t happen.

What should the plan be from here?

Making predictions often results in the prediction maker looking foolish, but I’ll give it a whirl.  With the Mets likely set for the near term in both the infield and starting rotation, their main area of need going into 2014 will probably still be the outfield.  There’s a chance that Lucas Duda has a breakout offensive year in 2013.  Even if he does, he’ll still be a defensive liability while doing it.  Kirk Nieuwenhuis flashed a playable glove in center last year, but was over-matched at the plate as the season went on.  Collin Cowgill is an interesting pickup, but likely no more than a solid bench piece.  Like Cowgill, Andrew Brown and Mike Baxter are unlikely to develop into anything more than role players.  I’d love for all of them or even one of them to prove me wrong, but the odds are against that happening.

Aside from the five players above, Terry Collins discussed the possibility of trying Justin Turner and Zach Lutz in the outfield during spring training.  There’s also a chance they again give the toolsy but at times maddening Jordany Valdespin another chance out there.  Like Cowgill and Co., the chances of any of those three sticking in the outfield are slim.

The outfielders the Mets have in the minors aren’t highly thought of or close to contributing in the majors.  Like Nieuwenhuis, Matt den Dekker has an above average glove in center, but hasn’t even proven that he can hit in AAA.  Cory Vaughn has some above average tools, but is nowhere near ready.  Brandon Nimmo (the only one who may develop into an impact bat) is years away.  Everyone keeps begging for the Mets to move Wilmer Flores to the oufield, but he simply isn’t fast enough to be passable out there.

Presently, the Mets have only $33.5 million committed to player salaries for 2014.  There are six players who are arbitration eligible, and who will likely get raises if the Mets keep them.  Still, the team should have a significant amount of money to spend on free agents after 2013.  In the event that none of the Mets distinguish themselves in the outfield this year, the front office would likely dive head first into the free agent pool.

Now, some people think that the Mets are years away from contending, and that throwing money at free agent outfielders after 2013 won’t make them contenders.  I’m not one of those people.  Their starting rotation and infield are both solid to above average.  The bullpen is in a bit of disarray, but could be bolstered by a bunch of promising young arms including Josh Edgin, Jeurys Familia, and Jenrry Mejia.  The key to contention in 2014 and beyond is strengthening the outfield, and the pieces to reel in will be out there for the taking after this season.

Who should the targets be after 2013?

I went over a list of the outfielders who are likely to be free agents after 2013.  There are lots of interesting names, but only four that stood out to me as players the Mets should go after.  There are those who may want the Mets to go after Mike Morse, Martin Prado, and/or Curtis Granderson, but I would steer clear of all three of them.

Morse is a butcher defensively, has had only one impressive season to date, and will be 32 heading into 2014.  Prado is a great guy to have as a jack of all trades, but a team in the Mets’ position shouldn’t be interested in him as a full time outfield solution.  His defense out there isn’t elite, and he doesn’t have plus speed to make up for his lack of power.  Granderson is interesting, and his home/road splits aren’t too glaring, but they’re evident.  He’s a career .262 hitter who struck out 195 times last year, and he’ll be looking to cash in after the season at 33 years of age.  Whoever pays him will likely regret it.  I don’t want the Mets to be that team.

So, assuming the Mets don’t sign Michael Bourn in the next few weeks, who should they look into signing after the season ends?

Jacoby Ellsbury – He was hampered by injuries in 2010 and 2012, but from 2007 to 2009 and in 2011, Ellsbury showed everyone just how dynamic he can be.  For his career, Ellsbury’s 162 game average has resulted in a .297 batting average, 107 runs scored, 193 hits, 17 home runs, 35 doubles, 53 stolen bases, and 73 RBI’s.  The Mets should selfishly hope for Ellsbury to show that his injuries are behind him in 2013, while at the same time not having an explosive offensive season.  If he has a tremendous year, his agent Scott Boras will demand an absurd amount of money on behalf of his client.  Ellsbury will be 30 heading into 2014, but as a player who’d hit leadoff and slot into center field, he should be at the top of the Mets’ list.

Carlos Gomez- In the event that Ellsbury has injury woes again in 2013, or commands a contract that’s outlandish, Gomez (28 years old heading into 2014 and another Boras client) would be a solid fallback option.  One of the players the Mets dealt to Minnesota in the Johan Santana trade, Gomez has established himself as an elite defensive center fielder.  It’s taken a while for Gomez’ offense to catch up to his defense, but he made huge strides in 2012.  For his career, he’s still only a .247 hitter with a .294 OBP, but he flashed above average power last year (cracking 19 home runs) while upping his average to .260.  Another Boras client, the Mets should be open to bringing Gomez back and sticking him in center field if Ellsbury isn’t brought in.

Shin-Soo Choo- Choo will be 31 going into 2014.  Yet another Boras client, Choo has flown a bit under the radar in Cleveland.  Since 2008, though, he’s been extremely impressive.  He hits for average, gets on base at a great clip (career .381 OBP), and has averaged 38 doubles and 90 runs per year over the course of his career.  He strikes out a lot (147 times on average), and doesn’t stand out in right field as much as Ellsbury and Gomez do in center.  Still, Choo should be another player the Mets look into after 2013.

Carlos Beltran- Yes, Carlos Beltran.  The player who many fans blame for the Mets not making the World Series in 2006.  The guy who won Game 1 of the NLCS by himself, but had the gall to be unable to hit an un-hittable curveball in the 9th inning of Game 7.  The best all around outfielder the Mets ever had.  Beltran will be 37 heading into 2014, but is still very productive.  He’s no longer elite defensively, but his offensive game is still there.  He hit .269 with 32 home runs and 97 RBI’s for St Louis last year, and should be available for a reasonable one or two year deal after this season.  If his 2013 resembles his 2012, the Mets should ponder bringing him back as a second piece that complements the addition of either Ellsbury, Gomez, or Choo.

…Now, perhaps Lucas Duda develops into such a monster at the plate that his defensive shortcomings turn into a blip on the radar screen.  Maybe Kirk Niuewenhuis and Collin Cowgill will turn into Lenny Dykstra and Mookie Wilson.  Perhaps Andrew Brown emerges, or Jordany Valdespin puts it all together.

If any or all of the above things happen, I’ll be pleasantly surprised and the Mets may not have to turn to free agency to address their outfield situation.  That’d be nice, but don’t expect it to happen.  In the likeliest scenario, the Mets will have both the need for external help in the outfield and the money available to bring those players in.  This off-season wasn’t the time to be bold.  Next off-season should be a different story.

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  • Rustystaub

    How about hunter pence in right field? I believe he is a free agent as well? I like him and Gomez. If not than Beltran and Gomez. Stay away from elsbury!!! If u r going to spend that type of $$$ go after cano

  • http://www.facebook.com/danny.abriano Danny Abriano

    Thanks for the feedback. Pence is indeed a FA next year, but I’d pass on him. He’s decent enough, but I prefer the guys listed. As far as Cano, I’d expect the Yankees to lock him up. They’ve been working to get under the $189 luxury tax number, and I can’t see them letting him go.

  • kasper

    I think the hope is that the Mets can find 1 option in house this year. You aren’t going to be able to sign three of those outfielders next year, probably not even two. If one of Duda/Nieuwheis/Cowgill/Brown/Baxter, or even a platoon of say Duda/Cowgill can prove to be a legit MLB outfield option then the Mets can focus on bringing in 1 or 2 more outfielders via trade or free agency

  • Reader Dan

    Give me Gomez and Beltran. That would radically improve the defense and give the Mets some more offense from Beltran. You could fill in whichever of Nieuwheis/Cowgill/Brown/Baxter stands out this year in the last slot and also plug the extra OFs in regularly to give Beltran rest. Also, I think you are overlooking David Murphy and Nelson Cruz from the Rangers…. they would not be bad options, particularly if you paired them with one of the other OFs on your list.

  • http://twitter.com/D_Abriano Danny Abriano

    I don’t see David Murphy as a difference maker on either side of the ball. As far as Cruz is concerned, now that he’s been linked to the PED scandal in Miami, I think we can cross him off the list. He’ll also be 34 in 2014. Even before the PED nonsense, the lasting image I had of Cruz was of him butchering what should’ve been the last out of the 2011 World Series.

    • Reader Dan

      His line last year was .304/.380/.479 and the advanced metrics say he is a good defensive LF. Granted he probably does not come close to touching that going forward, but he would be a big upgrade over what the Mets have.

  • CharlieChally

    I would like Gomez in CF for sure.

  • Super T

    Great article but here’s the problem, I would be willing to bet that over half of those outfielders you listed as possibilities for the Mets in 2014 will either be extended with a new contract, or traded and given a new contract with a new team.

    • http://twitter.com/D_Abriano Danny Abriano

      That’s certainly a possibility with Ellsbury and Choo…and if those guys are on the trading block, the Mets should be involved. I don’t see the Cards dealing Beltran, and Milwaukee should contend – making it unlikely that Gomez gets dealt.

    • http://twitter.com/D_Abriano Danny Abriano

      As far as signing extensions with their current team in-season, these guys are Boras clients. Not highly likely…

  • James Solomon

    Zobrist has a team option next year and if he is on the market then pair him with Choo as great OBP guys.

  • HarryDoyle

    Great article. I think you undervalued Prado though. I’d put him in the same value category as Choo. Also, some potential trade targets would have made the article even better.

    • http://twitter.com/D_Abriano Danny Abriano

      The D’Backs apparently only agreed to trade Upton for Prado because they felt they’d shortly sign him to an extension. As far as trade targets are considered, they were out there this offseason and Alderson attempted it (Myers, Upton). The two of them (young, tons of upside) would’ve been worth dealing significant pieces from the farm. Now that the ship has sailed on them, I’d rather dedicate a chunk of the money the Mets have coming off the books to external OF FA’s.

  • Not4

    Thanks for article. I’d be surprised if at least one OF spot is not filled via trade, and not FA. (Like you I am hoping that one could be filled from one of the existing crop of Duda, Nieuwenhuis, den Dekkar, Valdespin or Lagaras – each of whom is probably a long shot on their own, but maybe in the aggregate we can get lucky with one.)

  • beerfinger

    Unfortunately, none of those guys are really a good fit. Ellsbury is a speed guy who will command a huge contract going into his 30′s. Same situation as Bourn this year, only more expensive and longer contract. Gomez has a LONG way to go before he becomes a viable option. 452 AB’s and a decent season don’t make up for 5 years of mediocrity. Beltran’s too old. I would take a flyer on Shin Soo-Choo as long as we can get him for a fair price and 3 years max. Otherwise, I would aim for Bourn-type players next year, the way Atlanta did with him a couple years ago.

  • http://twitter.com/MitchMan920 Keith Mitchell

    There is absolutely no chance Carlos Beltran would ever entertain the idea of coming back to the Mets. He didnt like the media and the fans for good reason. The fans were hard on him for no reason, he was by far the best offensive and defensive outfielder we ever have had. It was a pleasure to watch Beltran from 2005-2011 in a Mets uniform.

  • joeknix

    Lets not forget that Nimmo had a solid year in Brooklyn after a slow start and he’ll start in Port St. Lucie next season . . . so hopefully it won’t be long before he can fill one of those OF spots for the big team sometime in 2014. A lot of things would have to go right for Nimmo . . . but it is very possible that he gets a June call up to Queens in 2014.

  • Noah Baron

    My hope is that Duda and Brown emerge as solid options after this season, as both have proven to be good hitters at periods of time whether in the minors or in the majors. Duda will hopefully be locked in at left field while Brown will (maybe) be locked in at right. I think the best fit for the Mets in this free agent class would definitely be Carlos Gomez, because speedy players lose value very quickly as they age, and a 3 year deal would still contain Gomez during the prime of his career.

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