With the Curtis Granderson signing in the books, the Mets have likely set their everyday outfield for the 2014 with Granderson in left, Juan Lagares in center, and Chris Young in right. This configuration gives New York perhaps the best defensive outfield in baseball and allows for Sandy Alderson to continue his reclamation project in other areas, such as first base and shortstop. The signing also has a domino effect on Eric Young – the defending NL steals champion will be either relegated to a fourth outfielder or shifted to second base should Daniel Murphy be traded and Wilmer Flores deemed not ready for the position.
One potential Murphy trade tossed around by Michael Baron at MetsBlog involves a straight-up swap with the Yankees for speedy Brett Gardner, who may be displaced following the Bombers’ Carlos Beltran (sigh…) signing last night. The trade makes sense from the Yankees’ point-of-view: they could unload one of their surplus outfielders and get in return a second baseman to fill the hole Robinson Cano left unplugged, and a much cheaper plug at that. From the Amazin’ perspective, the deal is about a toss-up, providing just as many advantages as drawbacks.
Murphy and Gardner are fairly similar players. Gardner will spend most of next year at age 30, while Murphy turns 29 around Opening Day. Both have often been injured: Murphy missed all of 2010 major league season and the last two months of 2011, while Gardner was limited to 16 games in 2012. Murphy’s career batting average is higher than Gardner’s, but Gardner walks more often, bringing his OPS close to Murphy’s. They both have marginal power but rack up a lot of extra base hits: Gardner’s total doubles and triples in 2013 trumped Murphy’s by just one, 43-42. Gardner’s speed would appear to give him an edge in stolen bases, and they certainly did earlier in his career, but Murphy emerged as a base-stealer last season by swapping 23 bags, just one fewer than Gardner. The only clear skill advantage Gardner holds over Murphy is his glove: whereas Murphy is a marginal second baseman at best, Gardner is a former two-time Fielding Bible winner, claiming the award for left field in 2010 and 2011.
Gardner would give the Mets another influx of speed, setting the table for David Wright and Granderson to rack up RBIs. He could also serve as a left-handed platoon player with righty Chris Young, filling in if Young’s injuries flare up or he simply cannot hit right-handed pitching. With Gardner’s glove, his addition would cement the team’s place as baseball’s best defensive outfield, no matter which combination of the four is out there.
On the other hand, Gardner’s addition would give the Mets a problem alluded to in the previous sentence: an influx of outfielders, the same sort of influx the Yankees are trying to avoid by putting Gardner on the trading block. In essence, the Mets would be giving up an established full-time major-leaguer for a part-time outfielder. When it comes to speed, despite their recent reputation for having clunky runners, the Mets have a more-than-decent amount of speed on the current roster. Eric Young led the league in steals last year. When healthy, Chris Young should provide about 20 steals a year; Granderson is the same way. Wright was on pace for 25 stolen bases last year before his injury, and Murphy found his legs after EY Jr. came to New York. Gardner’s fast, but steals were down last year compared to his prime, and his legs will only get slower as he goes through his 30s.
If this was earlier in the offseason and the Mets were still looking for a third outfielder, this trade may have been more likely. However, because of the Chris Young signing and the team’s holes in the rest of the lineup, Sandy Alderson should be advised not to trade Daniel Murphy for Brett Gardner. If Murphy is moved at all, he should be moved as a key piece in a larger package used to bring in a power-hitting first baseman or shortstop.