For the first time in years, the New York Mets spent significant money on free-agent talent during the offseason. Among the expenditures: Curtis Granderson's four-year, $60 million deal.
Although Mets fans will have to wait a month for Granderson's debut at Citi Field, the former Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees star can begin to help transform a poor Mets lineup during the Grapefruit League slate. That schedule began Friday with an exhibition game against the Washington Nationals.
Last year, despite featuring third baseman David Wright's .390 on-base percentage, the Mets scored only 619 runs and hit just 130 home runs.
Those figures, per ESPN, ranked 23rd and 25th, respectively, in Major League Baseball.
If the Mets are going to morph from a 74-win outfit to a 90-win powerhouse—an attainable goal according to their front office, per John Harper of the New York Daily News—Granderson's powerful bat and run-scoring ability will be a major part of the turnaround.
Due to long-term injury issues, Granderson's 2013 was limited to 245 forgettable plate appearances. In 2014, the Mets need their impact addition to profile as the type of performer he was from 2011 to 2012 for the Yankees.
During those two seasons, Granderson posted averages of 42 home runs, 119 runs scored and 4.2 bWAR.
How did Granderson fare during his first game in a Mets uniform? Here are updates and takeaways from the debut of New York's newest star.
New Team, New Role
The Grapefruit League is just underway for the Mets, but if the first game is any indication of how manager Terry Collins plans to use his new, expensive outfielder, an adjustment will be necessary for Granderson.
During Granderson's 10-year career, he's made just nine starts as a right fielder. Offensively, his name has been penciled into the No. 3 hole in the lineup just 25 times.
Despite his track record as a center fielder and top-of-the-order hitter, Granderson started the exhibition season as New York's right fielder and No. 3 hitter.
Defensively, Granderson should be able to adjust without a problem. In reality, as he enters his age-33 season, moving away from the demanding defensive position of center field is a good move for Granderson's defensive value.
Over the last three years, Granderson was worth a total dWAR (defensive WAR) of minus-0.8 for the Yankees outfield. In other words, he cost the Yankees due to diminishing defense in center field.
Offensively, Granderson can excel by hitting ahead of David Wright in the order. With one of baseball's best all-around players behind him, pitchers won't want to pitch around Granderson and put him on base ahead of the dangerous Wright.
If it comes to patience at the plate, Granderson shouldn't have trouble taking a walk ahead of a talented hitter. During his time with the Yankees, Granderson often hit in the No. 2 hole in the lineup, ahead of impact bats like Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.
Over the last three years, Granderson's walk rate hasn't dipped below 11 percent.
Focus on Timing, Not Health
When considering Granderson's ability to stay on the field this summer, don't let his freak injuries—stemming from two separate hit-by-pitch sequences—cloud what he's been during a long career: one of baseball's most durable players.
From 2006 to 2012, Granderson played in 1,070 games, averaging 153 per season. Only eight players—Prince Fielder, Adrian Gonzalez, Ichiro Suzuki, Miguel Cabrera, Dan Uggla, Robinson Cano, Michael Young and Jeff Francoeur—topped him in that category, per Baseball-Reference (subscription required).
Among that list of iron men, only Ichiro Suzuki and Jeff Francoeur did it as outfielders.
Yet, strictly going by games played in 2013, Granderson could be labeled as damaged goods or a question mark heading into this season.
Instead of fretting about his health, pay attention to timing and comfort in the box. Injuries happen, but Granderson lost a major chunk of his free-agent season due to errant pitches. If he's jumpy in the box or looks uncomfortable early in spring training, it's something he has to work through.
Unlike players with hamstring or ankle concerns, Granderson should be a lock for 150 games in 2014.
When a team shells out $15 million per season for a player, performance isn't just vital; it supersedes everything.
Granderson's arrival gave the Mets legitimacy on the free-agent market, but he'll need to live up to the contract in 2014 and beyond by playing a solid outfield and hitting the cover off the baseball in Queens.
During his first exhibition game, Granderson looked comfortable in right field, easily gliding to a fly ball for an inning-ending out in the top of the third.
Offensively, Granderson flied to left field in the bottom of the first inning, grounded out to second in the fourth and was removed from the game before a third plate appearance.
Granderson finished the day 0-for-2.
Granderson will be a vital performer for the Mets in 2014. If he hits close to the level of 2011-2012, David Wright will have another middle-of-the-order bat to take the pressure off him and help New York's offense rise out of the bottom third of league ranks.
Furthermore, the veteran will be looked upon as a leader and one of the faces of the franchise.
During SNY's broadcast, the Mets broadcast team raved about the type of person that Granderson is around the facility and clubhouse. For a franchise looking to win games and sell tickets, the affable star can be a marketing dream.