The Mets have apparently plugged their center field hole with Alejandro De Aza
This week, the Mets signed outfielder Alejandro De Aza to a one-year, $5.75 million contract. The Mets had been looking for a left-hand-hitting complement to Juan Lagares, and landed on De Aza, who last year posted a triple slash of .262/.333/.422 with three teams. De Aza hit seven home runs and drove in 35 runs last season.
This off-season, the Mets had been linked to Denard Span, Dexter Fowler, and Gerardo Parra. However, De Aza, unlike the others (according to reports) was willing to accept a one-year deal. One of the issues with signing De Aza is that while the objective seems to be a platoon with Lagares, De Aza does not often play center field, and when he does, does not do so effectively (-18 DRS over his career). De Aza offers some handedness positive splits, posting a .274 career average and .338 OBP against right-handed pitching.
However, De Aza is not the type of impact player the Mets need to lengthen their lineup, and replace at least some of the lost power of Yoenis Cespedes. This is particularly troublesome because the left-hand hitting half of the platoon will get most of the playing time. Span would have provided speed at the top of the lineup, and enabled Curtis Granderson to bat in a run-producing spot in the order. However, the Mets passed on Span due to concerns over “his health and signability.” Fowler and Parra could have offered some speed and some power, but the Mets chose to pass on both.
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The signing of De Aza seems to be more a product of finances than baseball sense. Since the signing, numerous reports have surfaced about the debt the Wilpons are facing, and how that is impacting baseball decisions. If these reports are true, they are disconcerting. The Mets are coming off a magical season that saw them compete into November in the World Series. This was supposed to be the beginning of a positive cycle, where a better team means increased revenues, and increased revenues mean appropriate spending to keep the on-field product viable. The signing of De Aza, rather than an impact player, indicates that this cycle has been abruptly interrupted.
Then there’s the other, equally troubling angle. As has been written many times, the Mets will not be able to retain all of the starting pitchers, beginning with the 2018 off-season. Therefore, they have a window to win, and that window will not remain open indefinitely. If the organization continues to let finances drive personnel decisions, they could be wasting and opportunity to win a championship, the type of opportunity that does not come along often.
There’s a chance that all of this could become moot if the Mets decide to bring in an impact outfielder, and use De Aza as a bench piece (particularly with the loss of Kirk Nieuwenhuis). However, based on statements coming from the team about why they are not pursuing the players mentioned above (whether it’s health, money, or compensation picks), this does not seem likely. And it isn’t even Christmas, so the team has almost two months until Spring Training, plenty of time for other acquisitions.
The reaction of the fans and media to the De Aza signing would suggest that most feel the Mets are close to done (other than adding to the bullpen). If, and that’s a big if, this turns out to be the situation, the team will once again begin the season with a payroll in the bottom third. The team will once again have the look of being pieced together from spare parts. This is not okay. And when the previous season resulted in a pennant, it’s downright unacceptable.