Could the Mets pursue Jacoby Ellsbury for 2014?
This just wasn't going to be an exciting offseason for the New York Mets. Not in terms of acquiring star players through free agency or trade, that is.
The Mets still drew plenty of headlines this winter. Third baseman David Wright received an eight-year, $138 million contract extension, while NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays for a package including catcher Travis d'Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard.
But while recovering from near-bankruptcy and working with a significantly reduced payroll, the Mets have not added the difference-making outfielder, starting pitcher or reliever that the roster needs. CBS Sports' Jon Heyman tweeted that the team has money to spend, but the right player for them probably isn't available at this point.
However, after the 2013 season, the Mets' payroll will presumably increase. For one thing, salaries like the $18 million owed to Jason Bay will be off the books. As Cot's Contracts shows, the contracts for John Buck and Frank Francisco will also expire.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson told ESPN New York's Adam Rubin that such payroll flexibility could lead to "significant activity" from the team in the 2014 free-agent market.
Assuming the Mets stand pat with their current projected outfield of Lucas Duda in left field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center and Mike Baxter in right, that will be a major need Alderson will have to address for 2014.
If the Mets do unlock their checkbook, the free-agent class for 2014, as listed by MLB Trade Rumors, has some promising names that could make a big impact for their outfield.
Jacoby Ellsbury appears to be the top name available and would be a significant addition for the Mets in center field. That is, if he's capable of repeating his MVP-caliber performance from 2011. Ellsbury hit .321 with a .928 OPS, 32 home runs, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases for the Boston Red Sox two seasons ago.
But a shoulder injury limited Ellsbury to 74 games in 2012. As a result, he hit .271 with a .682 OPS, four home runs, 26 RBI and 14 stolen bases. If Ellsbury stays healthy through a full season, however, and puts up big numbers, he stands to cash in nicely.
Curtis Granderson is another name that might appeal to the Mets. He's already a known commodity in the New York market and his popularity makes him easily promotable for a team in need of stars.
Yet Granderson will be 32 after this coming season. Along with his increasing strikeout totals and decreasing batting average, is he a player worth a long-term investment.
Though Granderson is also coming off two consecutive 40-home run seasons and could approach that number again this year, will he have anywhere near that sort of production hitting in Citi Field as opposed to Yankee Stadium?
A less expensive option could be Chris Young. He would also be a right-handed bat that might fit better with Duda and Ike Davis in the Mets batting order. Young doesn't hit for a high average, batting .231 with a .745 OPS last season.
One more right-handed center fielder with a great glove that could be considered is Franklin Gutierrez. Gutierrez hasn't been able to stay healthy during the past two seasons, and he's not the same level of hitter than the three previously mentioned outfielders.
But Gutierrez would provide a right-handed bat for the Mets lineup and excellent defense in center. With his injury history, he would surely be a cheaper signing as well.
If the Mets went with a less expensive player in center, they could look to add a bigger name for right field.
Shin-Soo Choo is probably the best available at that position. Choo has a career average near .300 and an OPS approaching .850. He's also capable of hitting 20 home runs with 85 RBI and has the speed to steal 20 bases.
Plus, if Choo proves that he can play center field—as the Cincinnati Reds will ask him to do this season—perhaps he could do so for the Mets. Right field seems like the more likely position for him in the future, however.
Hunter Pence is another possibility, and would bring a right-handed bat to the Mets lineup.
But the San Francisco Giants might not let him get to free agency, depending on how he performs this year. The Giants gave up two top prospects in catcher Tommy Joseph and pitcher Seth Rosin to get him. San Francisco also needs a productive corner outfielder, and thus will probably try their best to keep him.
The name that the Mets might want to zero in on is Corey Hart.
Hart is sort of under the radar with the Milwaukee Brewers, but has a right-handed bat that's averaged 29 home runs and 83 RBI over the past three seasons. While he isn't the best defensive right fielder, if paired with a good glove in center, Hart should provide at least an average glove.
Alderson will probably also pursue a closer to replace Francisco for 2014, unless Bobby Parnell proves he can handle that role. Since he hasn't to this point, however, it's likely that the Mets will look for outside help to pitch the ninth inning.
Joel Hanrahan might be the best target for the Mets. The Red Sox might not let him get away if he's successful as their closer this year—especially after trading four players for him. But he's averaged 38 saves over the past two seasons while striking out nine batters per nine innings.
For a team that's had to deal with Francisco's inconsistency, however, Hanrahan's walk rate of 5.4 per nine innings could be a concern. But perhaps he'll have straightened out those issues during the 2013 season.
A less walk-prone closer that should be on the market is Ryan Madson. Madson is coming off Tommy John surgery and has to prove he can make it through a full season healthy. But if he's available in free agency, Madson could be the strikeout reliever most teams prefer in the closer role. He's averaged more than nine strikeouts per nine innings during his past three seasons.
Obviously, how he recovers from reconstructive surgery on his elbow remains to be seen. But Madson could be even stronger in 2014 than he will be this season.
The biggest risk among free-agent closers will be Carlos Marmol. Again, given the Mets' experience with Francisco's lack of consistency and issues with control, Marmol is probably not someone they'd prefer in their bullpen. He averaged 7.3 walks per nine innings last season, and has a rate of six walks per nine over his career.
But if the Mets want a strikeout guy, Marmol can definitely bring the heat. During his seven-year MLB career, he's averaged nearly 12 K's per nine innings.
Mets fans will surely want to see some excitement next year during the offseason. Contract extensions and trades for prospects might be important, but lack hot stove sizzle.
Alderson's comments about being active in free agency only increase that anticipation. Fortunately for him and the Mets, the free-agent market has several players at the positions where the team needs the most help.
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