As Spring Training draws closer, the outfield market remains saturated with higher-end players
While the Mets arguably made a mistake jumping the market for outfielder Alejandro De Aza, they can still rectify that by relegating him to bench duty. All it will take is signing one of the remaining free agent outfielders.
It’s been said that the Mets are done negotiating with Cespedes, who they were reportedly willing to give a two or three-year deal, and they no longer plan to watch Span work out to prove his health. But they should be engaging both.
The current long-end of their center field platoon — the lefty-swinging De Aza — has hit right-handed pitching well during his career, but he isn’t a true masher against them. But the bigger issue with De Aza, who was DFA’ed by the Orioles last season, is that his offense doesn’t come close to offsetting the fact that he shouldn’t be playing center field.
With roughly six weeks until Spring Training begins, there are still six high-profile free agent outfielders on the market: Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Upton, Alex Gordon, Dexter Fowler, Denard Span, and Gerardo Parra.
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Of those players, both Upton and Gordon aren’t fits as the Mets are currently constructed since neither can play center field. And Fowler isn’t a fit because he’s been a negative defender in center field every season since 2011, with alarmingly bad performances the last two seasons. Parra is also miscast as a center fielder.
As has been the case since the offseason began, the two players who fit what the Mets need are Yoenis Cespedes and Dexter Fowler. Cespedes because he can fake it in center field for two seasons (until Curtis Granderson’s contract is up) while offering the team tremendous offensive upside. And Span because it was likely health problems that resulted in his poor performance in center field last season.
In the case of Cespedes, while he’s reportedly been asking for a deal for six years or more, every team that has been connected to him has distanced itself. After the Orioles and White Sox were named the favorites for his services, the Orioles shot down serious interest and the White Sox said they’d only sign Cespedes or fellow free agent Alex Gordon for three years or less.
In the case of Span, while his agent Scott Boras has said a multi-year deal will be required to sign him, no team yet appears willing to offer more than one year. Perhaps that’s because Span hasn’t yet proven his health, but that hasn’t been reported.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, the only “major” free agents who signed after January last year were Max Scherzer and James Shields. There were a bunch more in 2014, but there wasn’t a pack of highly thought of outfielders then like there is this year.
It appeared at the beginning of the offseason that there simply weren’t enough teams seriously interested in the free agent outfielders for all of these players to get the deals they wanted. And the lack of activity to this point seems to bear that out.
As of now, the only teams interested in the high-end free agent outfielder market are the Orioles, Royals, White Sox, Tigers, and Cardinals.
However, as is noted above, the White Sox and Orioles both appear unwilling to meet the demands for Cespedes. And the O’s aren’t ready to give more than one year to Span.
The Royals would like to re-sign Alex Gordon, but haven’t been linked to any of the other outfielders, the Tigers have shot down interest in Cespedes, and the Cardinals’ first choice is Gordon.
All it takes is one team to emerge and make the market for Cespedes and/or Span insane, but it doesn’t feel like that’s going to happen. There’s also a chance than one or more of these teams is playing possum. But the fact is that it’s Jan. 3 and tons of outfielders remain unsigned.
Circling back to the Mets, the possibility that they can’t afford or refuse to spend on one of these outfielders has to be discussed. But if you take them at face value that they were interested in Cespedes for two or three years and/or Span for one or two years, there’s no valid reason for them to not jump back into this market.
The Mets still have moves to make, and entering the 2016 season without adequately addressing center field — their one glaring need — would be inexcusable.
As underwhelming as the Mets’ offseason has been so far, they can fix it by signing either Cespedes if his market remains depressed or Span if his health checks out.