In Mets’ search for an outfielder, it’s trade market or bust

By Danny Abriano

When the Rockies surprisingly extended a qualifying offer to potential Mets target Michael Cuddyer on Monday, an already slim free agent class became that much more barren.

Even if Cuddyer doesn’t accept the qualifying offer for some reason, the Mets – and pretty much every other team in need of outfield help – will no longer be interested in his services due to the fact that he would be attached to draft pick compensation.

While many are now reacting as if the Cuddyer news will negatively impact the Mets’ offseason, I think it has the chance to do the opposite.

Instead of the Mets perhaps settling on a player like Cuddyer, who was injured for the bulk of 2014 and is a defensive liability, Monday’s turn of events could instead force them to find their outfield improvement via the trade market – where their attention should’ve been in the first place.

Along with Cuddyer, the other notable free agent outfielders are Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, and Nick Markakis, none of whom are expected to land with the Mets.

Cabrera may receive a five-year deal for close to $70 million, Cruz is a DH at this point in his career, and Markakis – whom some have linked to the Mets for some reason – is reportedly working on a four-year extension with the Orioles.

A rung below the above are players such as Michael Morse, Alex Rios, and Norichika Aoki, but the Mets reportedly (and wisely) have very little interest in any of them.

Another intriguing option is Cuban outfielder Yasmany Tomas, but there haven’t been any reports that have linked the Mets to him. Tomas, who has prodigious power, makes sense, but it may simply be that the Mets don’t want to commit six or seven years to an outfielder with Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto waiting in the wings.

However, one thing the Mets absolutely cannot do, is enter the 2015 season without having upgraded their corner outfield situation. Enter Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon.

According to reports, the Red Sox will seriously entertain offers for Cespedes, 29, who they acquired for Jon Lester last summer. In Kansas City, the Royals will reportedly listen to offers for Gordon, 30, who can become a free agent after the 2015 season.

While Cespedes doesn’t get on base at a great clip, he’s an above average overall player who has prodigious power and a game-changing arm.

I’ve seen it written in multiple places that the Mets would have to give up one of their “young and promising” pitchers (Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, or Noah Syndergaard) for Cespedes, but simply don’t believe that to be the case.

The Red Sox acquired Cespedes for two months of Jon Lester. Cespedes certainly has value, but with one year remaining on his deal and with an acquiring team unable to place a qualifying offer on him after 2015, he isn’t worth a pitcher the caliber of Wheeler or deGrom or a prospect such as Syndergaard.

The Mets have the talent needed to land Cespedes without having to deal one of their top young pitchers, and should be engaging Boston to see if they can work something out.

Landing Alex Gordon would likely be tougher than trading for Cespedes.

The Royals are coming off a run to the World Series, and Gordon is a fan favorite. Still, Kansas City will probably not be able to extend Gordon after the year, leaving them with a tough choice.

Andy Martino of the Daily News recently speculated that the Mets could acquire Gordon by offering Daniel Murphy and Rafael Montero, but it will likely require more than that.

Murphy may interest the Royals, but Montero as the second piece would probably not be enough. If Gordon is truly available, he should be ahead of Cespedes on the Mets’ list of targets.

Either way, as is noted above, the Mets need to head into the 2015 season with a new corner outfielder. And the trade route remains the way to go.