The New York Mets made headlines due to the trade that sent Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays for top prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. But general manager Sandy Alderson has failed to address one of the organization's main concerns this offseason: outfield help.
Sans d'Arnaud and Syndergaard, Alderson's "major" acquisitions this winter have come in the form of outfielders Collin Cowgill and, most recently, Andrew Brown (via ESPN's Adam Rubin).
Following Wednesday's signing of Brown, Rubin detailed what could be the Mets' starting outfield come April 1 at Citi Field: "The Mets still likely will try to add a starting outfielder such as Scott Hairston. In the interim, the depth chart would appear to be Lucas Duda in left field, a Kirk Nieuwenhuis-Collin Cowgill platoon in center field and a Mike Baxter platoon with Brown or Brian Bixler in right field."
Well, that list of names is disconcerting, to say the least.
On paper, Duda is the top player on that list of outfielders under contract, but he spent the back end of July and most of August in the minors after seeing his average plummet nearly 30 points in just over a month's time. The burly left fielder recently broke his wrist while moving furniture in his California home but is expected to be ready for spring training.
Nieuwenhuis burst onto the MLB scene by hitting .325 in his first calendar month, but he too was relegated to the minor leagues after falling into a brutal slump. The obvious problems with "Captain Kirk" are lack of plate discipline and the gaping hole in his swing—two issues he will have to address before he is deemed a starting outfielder.
His proposed platoon partner, Cowgill, has a whopping 74 games of MLB experience in which he has compiled a .255 batting average to go with one home run and nine RBI. He's a right-handed hitter who plays solid defense, but don't expect him to vie for much more than a utility spot when the Mets head down to Port St. Lucie.
Another newcomer to Flushing Meadows is Brown, a 28-year-old Dallas native who showed promise in the Pacific Coast League last season with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. Brown hit .308 with 24 homers and 98 RBI and was named to the PCL All-Star Game.
Bixler figures to compete with Brown for the honor to platoon with Baxter in right field. That is a scary thought, as Bixler has a lifetime .189 batting average. He's actually struck out 34 more times than he has been on base in his four-year MLB career.
While we're on the subject of minor league talent, it makes sense to touch on some of the other outfielders in the system.
Matt Den Dekker, the Mets fifth-round pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft, was talked about as an option last season, but as a lefty who hit just .220 through 78 games in Triple-A last season, he'll have to tear the cover off the ball in spring training to make the opening day roster.
Fans will undoubtedly be calling for Brandon Nimmo, one of the top prospects in the Mets system. Despite his talent and upside, the 19-year-old lefty needs much more time to develop.
Baxter, on the other hand, is one of the more promising outfielders on this list. Mets fans remember him for making that pretty important catch with Johan Santana on the mound, but he's shown the ability to develop into a spark plug at the back end of the lineup.
Although he is one of the more promising players who have been thrown into the running for an outfield spot, it's hard to be comfortable with Baxter as a starter heading into the season.
Jordany Valdespin is another name that has been tossed around as a potential outfielder. Valdespin has shown a flare for the dramatic but not much more. Like Nieuwenhuis, his Kryptonite is his poor feel for the strike zone, a problem that led to his -0.3 WAR for the season.
A crucial decision in the Mets forming some semblance of an outfield is whether the front office will choose to re-sign Scott Hairston. The 32-year-old righty smashed 20 home runs in just 377 at bats, but hit just .239 against right-handed pitching in 2012. Evidently, the two parties haven't made much progress in contract negotiations, but the longer the process draws out, the better chance the Mets would have of bringing him back at a bargain price.
Things are looking grim for Terry Collins' outfield, and there aren't many players on the free-agent market who would make much of a difference given the team's current financial state. You can throw the thought of bringing in Michael Bourn out the window because he is far out of the team's price range.
Assuming Duda eliminates his serious shortcomings (a big assumption), that leaves the center field and right field spots up for grabs. Platooning two-thirds of an outfield is tough on inexperienced players' psyches, so it would be wise for Collins to name a starter early in the season.
Given his past success, Nieuwenhuis will likely get the first crack at establishing himself as the Mets' main center fielder. But given his past failures, don't be shocked if he comes crashing back down to earth after an impressive start.
It would be an ugly mistake for Alderson not to re-sign Hairston, as he is the most experienced of the group, not to mention the most worthy of a starting spot. Although he primarily played left field last season, his 48 games in right field should ease his transition into a full-time role.
The majority of the outfielders who will be in Florida in February and March are minor-league caliber players. There's no doubt that at least two or three of the players in this article will be in Double-A or Triple-A when the season begins (I'm looking at you, Brian Bixler and Collin Cowgill).
If all goes well and Hairston is brought back, he, Nieuwenhuis and Duda should receive the lion's share of playing time at the beginning of the season. But if Alderson declines to bring Hairston back, the Mets are going to have a slew of subpar options.
In short, the answer to the Mets outfield dilemma will come down to the front office's willingness to spend on Hairston. Without him, the Mets are looking at a carousel of right fielders, none of whom is a complete package.
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