Through 51 seasons, the New York Mets have rarely had a long-term center fielder that they could build the rest of the team around. Tommie Agee (1968-1972), Lee Mazzilli (1977-1981), Mookie Wilson (1980-1989), Lenny Dykstra (1985-1989) and Carlos Beltran (2005-2010; played right field exclusively in 2011) have been the exceptions.
After Beltran's knee injuries caught up with him, Angel Pagan became the Mets' center fielder in part of 2010 and all of 2011. However, in this past offseason, Pagan got traded to the Giants for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez. Torres was expected to continue the recent success he had with the Giants, but his performance has made that trade seem rather lopsided in the Giants' favor.
Torres was a revelation in 2009 and 2010, batting .270 and .268 in those years, respectively. He even hit 16 home runs, drove in 63 RBI and stole 26 bases in 2010 to help the Giants win the World Series. Unfortunately, his 2011 season featured a .221 average, four home runs and 19 RBI which prompted the Giants to find an upgrade at center field.
Torres has not done any better this year. He's batting .221 with just two home runs and 33 RBI. His season has been plagued with injuries and he has been hitting poorly against right-handed pitching all season. His .175 average against right-handed pitching has been much worse than his .292 average against left-handed pitching. Furthermore, his speed has not been particularly good with just 11 stolen bases on a Mets team that completely lacks speed.
Torres will be eligible for arbitration this offseason, but will almost certainly get non-tendered thanks to his age (34), injury concerns and ineffectiveness at the plate. As a result, the Mets will need to find a new center fielder for the 2013 season. Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker are two options within the Mets' organization, but if the Mets can sign a proven free agent, that would be even better.
Here are five free agent center fielders that the Mets could consider signing.
The prized possession among free agent center fielders this offseason will be Josh Hamilton of the Rangers.
After a subpar 2011 season, Hamilton got off to a very fast start this year, although his second half has not been as staggering. Hamilton currently has a .287 average, 42 home runs (which is tied for the major league lead) and 123 RBI. He has once again been the leader of the Rangers, who are on pace to win the AL West division and have a chance to get to the World Series for the third consecutive year.
At season's end, Hamilton will be a free agent and will be seeking a contract similar to the one Matt Kemp signed with the Dodgers last year. In other words, he will look for at least five or six years and at least $20 million per season. Hamilton is one of the best hitters in the game and when healthy, can carry a team deep into the postseason. He gets on base, has tremendous power, drives in runs, has great speed, and plays quite well defensively too.
On the other hand, Hamilton has had issues with staying healthy and that could become a concern for some teams that may be interested in him. Any team would love to have a productive center fielder like Hamilton, but if he spends too much time on the disabled list, that could end up hurting the team that signs him.
As for the Mets, they are not likely to be one of the frontrunners to sign Hamilton. Hamilton is likely to re-sign with the Rangers. He will ask for a lot of money and most likely a lot more than the Mets could afford to pay one player, anyway. The Mets will almost certainly be paying a lot this offseason just to keep David Wright around, so finding more money for someone like Hamilton is very unlikely. Furthermore, the Mets would definitely not want to get burned by potential injuries like they did for a few seasons with Carlos Beltran.
On the other hand, the Mets do play in New York, which demands greatness and high expectations. The Mets are trying to become serious contenders by 2014 at the latest and signing someone like Hamilton could instantly restore credibility to the organization. Even though Hamilton is not the kind of player that general manager Sandy Alderson would be likely to sign, crazier things have happened. For now, Hamilton should at least be on the Mets' radar.
The best center field free agent option after Hamilton will be Michael Bourn of the Braves.
Unlike Hamilton, Bourn is known for getting on base, stealing bases and playing great defense. He is an ideal leadoff hitter and can be a great catalyst to any team.
Bourn is currently batting .274 with nine home runs, 56 RBI and a league leading 39 stolen bases. His stolen base total has not been up to par with the 61, 52 and 61 stolen bases he had in 2009, 2010 and 2011, respectively. Nonetheless, he has a .346 OBP and has been a major contributor for the NL Wild Card leading Braves.
Bourn will probably look to sign a five or six year contract with at least $10-15 million per season. The Braves will almost certainly make a very strong push to re-sign him, but the Mets should definitely make a great effort of their own.
The Mets desperately need a proven center fielder and an everyday leadoff hitter. Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes no longer play in New York and the impact of their loss has been evident. None of the Mets' center fielders this year have done particularly well and while Ruben Tejada has played well at shortstop this year, he does not have Reyes' speed. Signing Bourn would solve both of these pressing issues.
Due to Citi Field's deep gaps, Bourn would thrive with the Mets and would accumulate a lot of doubles and triples there for sure. After playing in Atlanta, he should definitely be able to handle a big city like New York. If the Mets can find a way to sign him, they should definitely do so in order to get their offense back to where it once was.
Yet another soon-to-be free agent center fielder is BJ Upton of the Rays.
At 27, Upton is younger than both Hamilton and Bourn and he the potential to be a great five-tool player. However, he has yet to completely put it all together.
Upton has always been a streaky hitter, but has a career high this year of 26 home runs, to go along with 74 RBI, a .250 average and 30 stolen bases. Despite his higher average though, Upton has drawn less walks, which would explain why his .303 OBP is considerably lower than before.
As a free agent this offseason, Upton will probably be trying to get a four or five year deal worth between $10-15 million per season. The Rays are not expected to bring him back due to his streaky track record.
The Mets could definitely make an effort to sign Upton as their new center fielder. He has power, speed, great defense and a very good friendship with David Wright. Upton and Wright grew up together in Virginia and have known each other since childhood. A potential reunion could be great for the two and could even help the Mets' ability to re-sign Wright. The Mets have a need for a center fielder and a leadoff hitter, so Upton could definitely take on both roles for quite some time.
In the end, Upton could be a hit or a miss for the team that ultimately signs him. He could be a consistent 30-30 player that can lead a team to the World Series, just like did for the Rays in 2008. On the other hand, Upton's streaky nature could also turn him into a bust. The Mets are already enduring one bust in Jason Bay and finding a new outfield disappointment is the last thing they would want to happen.
Upton would be a high risk-high reward choice and if Michael Bourn signs elsewhere, Upton should be one of the Mets' next targets this offseason.
Victorino had been an above average center fielder for the Phillies for six years until he got traded to the Dodgers this past July. Victorino has not hit as well as a Dodger, but still has 37 stolen bases altogether this year. Unfortunately, his .250 average, 10 home runs and 51 RBI have not been up to par with the numbers he put up in 2010 and 2011.
Since he will be 32 by December, Victorino will not be getting a long-term deal like some of the other free agent center fielders, so a two or three year deal worth $10-15 million per season is a likely scenario.
However, Victorino has been unpopular among Mets fans because of the role he had played in the Mets' rivalry with the Phillies. Throughout many rivalry matchups, Victorino became the player that Mets fans loved to hate.
It would be weird to see Victorino in a Mets uniform, but that could very well happen this offseason. Victorino could play two or three years as a stop-gap center fielder while some of the Mets' prospects continue to develop in the minor leagues. He would provide reliable defense in center fielder, a presence in the leadoff spot of the lineup, great speed and some much needed veteran leadership for a young Mets team.
Victorino is probably not the Mets' first choice, but if he is available, he should at least be a consideration.
Last but not least, a last resort free agent option could be Melky Cabrera, who was suspended earlier this year for 50 games after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Cabrera recently removed himself from being eligible to win the NL batting title because he did not want the award to get tainted.
Before the suspension, Cabrera was having an amazing season. He posted a .346 average, was the 2012 All-Star Game MVP and led the Giants offense to an NL West division title. It was quite a great season, especially when considering that 2011 was the only other particularly successful season he has had. However, all of that is now viewed differently thanks to his suspension.
A soon-to-be free agent, Cabrera was originally going to be in line for a four or five year contract worth between $60-80 million altogether. However, due to his troubles, he will be lucky to even get a two year contract. A one year deal for no more than $10 million is most likely.
Furthermore, when Cabrera got suspended, the Giants had 45 games left on their schedule, which meant that the final five games of the suspension would carry into the postseason and possibly even the start of the 2013 season. That depends on how far the Giants go in the postseason.
The Mets would be better off not taking a gamble on Cabrera, whose performance could easily go down thanks to him (hopefully) no longer using performance enhancing drugs. However, if the Mets are unable to sign any of the top free agent center fielders and still want to sign someone better than anyone they have in the organization, Cabrera could be a potential option and someone they should pay attention to.