A few days ago, Sandy Alderson had the following to say after he was asked about the current state of the outfield:
"Let me ask you a question. What did our outfield look like last year? I’m not happy with what we were able to do or not able to do with the outfield and I take total responsibility for that. At the same time, I’m not sure that what we have currently is a significant downgrade from what we had last year. That’s not a compliment, but I think there’s been a lot of focus on the outfield. In some ways, it’s detracted from a more fair appraisal of what we have elsewhere."
There’s no getting around the fact that the outfield appears to be a significant weakness at the moment. With that said, although some may want to scoff, Alderson makes two valid points in the above quote.
May 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; New York Mets center fielderKirk Nieuwenhuis
(9) and Mets right fielderMike Baxter
(23) celebrate after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The New York Mets won 3-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
The first, is that the outfield, while seemingly not a strength in 2013, was quite awful in 2012. The second, and more important point, is the fact that there has been such an obsession over the projected outfield, that it’s overshadowed the rest of the roster and prevented proper analysis from taking place. Instead of looking at the team as a whole and drawing conclusions, most are simply looking at the outfield and determining that it alone makes the Mets a hopeless mess.
Let’s do this in two parts. The first will be a general comparison of the projected 2013 outfield to the 2012 version. The second will be a rational look at the rest of the roster.
Gone are Hairston, Torres, and Bay. Still here are Duda, Nieuwenhuis and Baxter. In addition to the three holdovers, the team has added Collin Cowgill, Andrew Brown, and Marlon Byrd to the mix. Cowgill is probably a lock to make the roster, while Brown and Byrd should compete for the final outfield spot. There’s always a possibility Jordany Valdespin could sneak into the mix or that Zach Lutz will assert himself out there, but neither is a likely candidate to break camp with the team.
Jason Bay hit .165 last year, while Andres Torres hit .230. I’ve seen numerous instances where people referred to the fact that Bay and Torres were no longer Mets as “losses.” That line of thinking is mind boggling.
The only outfielder from 2012 who the Mets should regret losing is Scott Hairston. In the case of Hairston, he was a casualty of the Mets’ attempt and ultimate failure to bring in either Justin Upton or Michael Bourn. Had the Justin Upton trade gone down a day sooner, the Mets would likely have jumped back in on Hairston and retained him. Even if the Mets had re-signed Hairston, they would’ve been bringing back a player who offers power but little else. He’s a poor defender, often over-matched against right handers, and close to useless as a pinch hitter.
As Alderson mentioned, it isn’t a “compliment” to say that the 2013 outfield shouldn’t be a significant downgrade from the 2012 outfield (being that the 2012 outfield set the bar quite low). For arguments sake, let’s say the 2013 outfield produces at a level that’s about the same as their 2012 counterparts. Does that make the current outfield situation good? No. At the same time, the lack of apparent major improvement to the outfield shouldn’t impact the view of the rest of the roster.
Furthermore, as much as most people look at the projected 2013 outfield and snicker, the Mets are at least doing something they haven’t done recently: giving younger players a full shot to prove themselves. Lucas Duda will be playing nearly every day in left field. He could be an utter failure, unable to justify a full time job because of his futility against left handed pitching. Or, he could blossom. Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Collin Cowgill are likely to platoon in center field. They’re both young, hungry, and above average defenders. The offense they’ll provide is unknown, but the potential is there. Like Duda, they could both turn out to be unworthy. Or they could excel. Right field will likely be some combination of Mike Baxter, Andrew Brown, and Marlon Byrd (the only non youngster). There’s no knowing how those three will do. But again, looking at only the potential outfield production is a lazy and pointless means of drawing conclusions about the team as a whole.
Most expect 2013 to be a transition year, and the Mets will use it in part to evaluate which unknowns should be a part of the team in 2014 and beyond. With the Mets having only about $35 million committed to player salaries for 2014, the team will be active in free agency after the season concludes. If the 2013 outfield defies odds and becomes a strength, great. If not, some or all of them will likely be replaced with external solutions.
The Remainder of the Roster-
The starting rotation: When the current starting rotation is examined, people point their fingers at the loss of R.A. Dickey, hold them in mid-air, and scream – much like third graders hold their hands up and scream “ooh, ooh, me, me” when they’re waiting to be called on to answer a question in class. Is it easy to replace the production of a Cy Young Award winner? Of course not. The Mets, though, aren’t trying to replace Dickey with one pitcher in particular.
The rotation on opening day in 2012 consisted of Johan Santana, R.A. Dickey, Jonathon Niese, Mike Pelfrey, and Dillon Gee. While Dickey had a year for the ages, Pelfrey was lost for the season after a few starts, Gee was lost for the entire second half due to a blood clot in his shoulder, and Santana was an injured, tired shell of himself after the first half of the season before ultimately getting shut down in August. In their stead, the Mets turned to pitchers like Miguel Batista, Chris Schwinden, and Jeremy Hefner until Matt Harvey was called up in late July. Also there to step in was Chris Young.
The rotation on opening day in 2013 should consist of Johan Santana, Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese, Shaun Marcum and Dillon Gee. There is no R.A. Dickey, but the rotation as a whole has a good chance at being as productive or better than their 2012 counterparts. If the Mets need to dip into the minor leagues for help, they’ll be calling for Jenrry Mejia or Collin McHugh first – not Miguel Batista or Chris Schwinden. There’s also the carrot that is Zack Wheeler waiting in the wings.
Catcher: John Buck will likely be the starter to open the season, but Travis d’Arnaud (the top catching prospect in baseball) should arrive sometime in May.
The infield: Most agree that the infield is at worst average. Their potential, however, is much better than that. Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada, and David Wright are all solid defensively, and Daniel Murphy showed last year that he can hold his own at second base. Offensively, Davis and Wright are the thumpers. Terry Collins has noted that Murphy and Tejada both have to provide some more punch offensively.
When examining the 2013 infield (players who are all holdovers from 2012), it’s important to note the following: While Wright and Tejada didn’t have to battle through adversity in 2012, the other half of the infield did. Ike Davis played the majority of the first half of the season while still feeling the effects of Valley fever (and getting over his ankle injury). To his right, Daniel Murphy was learning a new position on the fly. That’s not the case in 2013. Both Davis and Murphy enter the season with clear minds.
The bullpen: There are very few bullpen arms that are consistent year to year. Because of that fact, it’s the part of a club that often sees the most turnover. The projected pen as of today is Bobby Parnell, Brandon Lyon, Josh Edgin, Scott Atchison, Greg Burke, LaTroy Hawkins, and Pedro Feliciano. Aside from Parnell, none of those six arms were on the Mets at the beginning of 2012, and five of them (all besides Edgin) are new acquisitions.
I’d expect those seven relievers to easily outproduce the 2012 bullpen. Lyon had a very good year in 2012, due in large part to an increased reliance on his curve. Burke has been a different pitcher since becoming a sidearmer about a year ago, Edgin was impressive after his callup, Atchison has been productive when healthy, etc. If any of them falter, Sandy Alderson has ensured that they can and will be replaced quickly. How has he done that? By giving Atchison, Burke, Hawkins, and Feliciano minor league deals. If they’re unproductive, it’ll be easier to cut bait. The relievers who are called up to replace them will likely be guys like Jeurys Familia, Jacob deGrom, and Robert Carson.
The bench has yet to be assembled, so we won’t delve into it at the moment.
The point here, is that the obsession with the makeup of the outfield has taken away from a proper analysis of the overall roster. Aside from the expected 25 man roster, there’s the much improved farm system and markedly improved monetary situation to take into account. Those two elements, however, are a discussion for a separate time.
The 2013 Mets could be horrible, they could be average, or they could surprise. Which one of those scenarios occurs, though, will not be due solely to the current makeup of the outfield. It’ll be due to the production of the team as a whole.