With the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reporting that the New York Mets inked Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million deal, the team is undoubtedly improved heading into the 2014 season. However, if the Mets are unwilling to sacrifice more money or assets this offseason to further improve the major league roster, the deal will be a mistake, as New York will fail to capitalize on Granderson’s prime years.
The front office has long advertised 2014 as the year in which the Mets would start competing. With the Jason Bay and Johan Santana contracts coming off the books, fans have long dreamt of signing an impact outfielder such as Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo, or Curtis Granderson in the 2013-14 offseason. With Matt Harvey emerging as one of the best pitchers in the National League, contending in 2014 seemed like a tangible possibility if the team had a strong offseason.
Harvey’s Tommy John surgery altered the Mets situation drastically. Heading into 2014 without Harvey, New York’s success depends heavily on the development of young hurlers Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia as well as contributions from prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero. The Mets would also need young hitters like Travis d’Arnaud and Juan Lagares to reach their potential if they have any chance at competing for a 2014 playoff spot.
With the still-developing Mets prospects' seemingly bright futures further down the road, signing Curtis Granderson makes little sense unless the Mets continue to be aggressive this offseason.
As he currently stands as a player, Granderson’s presence on the Mets makes the team better. As a 33-year-old outfielder, the discernible skills Granderson brings to New York are his power and speed. He has struggled with making consistent contact in recent years, batting .231 cumulatively over the past two seasons.
Granderson should significantly improve the Mets for the 2014 season. Outside of David Wright, New York hasn’t had a position player with this much impact potential since the loss of Jose Reyes.
The slugging outfielder has been an elite big leaguer as recently as 2011, when he placed fourth in the MVP race, finishing with 41 home runs, 119 RBI and a .262/.364/.552 slash-line. While his batting average dropped to .232 in 2012, he still hit 43 home runs and was a game-changing talent.
Many baseball experts around the league have lauded the deal for the Mets. ESPN’s Keith Law believes that with New York’s young rotation, this signing immediately improves the Mets outfield and should help them compete in 2015. FanGraphs' Eno Sarris thinks that Granderson should age gracefully because of his style of play, and that “He fills a desperate need for the Mets, who don’t have great short- or long-term options at his position.”
David Wright was also among those thrilled by the signing, as evidenced by the quote below:
"Our team just got better. But also... I think this will draw other free agents and guys who will follow him.” — Wright on Granderson— Marc Carig (@MarcCarig) December 6, 2013
Despite Granderson’s immediate impact on the team and the support behind the signing, the track record for outfielders following their age-33 season is bleak, a topic discussed in depth by Toby Hyde at MetsMinorLeagueBlog.com. Hyde analyzed players with similar skill sets and careers as Granderson heading into the latter stages of their careers, and found that almost universally the players’ WARs decline sharply.
Hyde also analyzed Granderson’s decline heading into this offseason, pointing out the very concerning increase in the outfielder’s strikeout percentage, rising from 19.9 percent in 2009 to over 28 percent in each of the last two seasons. With Granderson already noticeably declining, along with the poor track record of similar players, the chances of him being an above-average regular by the end of the contract are slim.
There is also the question of whether or not Curtis Granderson significantly cures the Mets offensive woes. As Kevin Burkhardt notes, in 2013 New York finished tied for 22nd in runs, 24th in OBP, 29th in slugging percentage and tied for 24th in home runs. They did this with Marlon Byrd in the lineup for most of the season, and Byrd hit .285 with a .518 slugging percentage and 21 home runs.
The Mets can expect slightly more home runs from Granderson than Byrd, with a significantly lower batting average. The Mets offense ranked as low as it did despite Byrd’s career year, and by replacing Byrd’s statistics with Granderson’s marginally better production, the front office made a small dent into the team’s offensive woes.
For fans, the Granderson signing is easy to like. While the Mets have stockpiled pitching talent, their lineup has remained underwhelming despite David Wright’s presence, and Granderson gives New Yorkers a reason to come to Citi Field.
Despite how the deal makes the Mets better in the short term, New York must approach the winter meetings with an aggressive attitude.
Bleacher Report's Joe Giglio lays out his view of the next steps for the Mets, citing the team’s need for a shortstop, a stable first baseman and a veteran arm. If the Mets fail to improve the team drastically in these areas for the 2014 season either through free agency or trades, the Granderson deal will be a failure, as the Mets need to capitalize on the years of production the slugging outfielder has left.
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All statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted.