Between the debacle that is Carlos Beltran's knee surgery, and watching free agent after free agent fall off the board, Omar Minaya and the New York Mets had to make some kind of move.
On Friday, they did just that. The acquired a former farm hand, Gary Matthews Jr., along with $21 million from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for right-handed reliever Brian Stokes.
But was this the right move? Matthews will go into Spring Training competing with Angel Pagan to be the starting center fielder at CitiField until Beltran has recovered from his surgery. Granted, if Matthews can somehow revert to his breakout 2006 season, then this could end up working very well in the Mets' favor.
But what happens when Beltran returns? "Little Sarge" will be reverted back to a part-time outfielder (with no DH spot available in the National League), which is what made his relationship with the Angels turn sour in the first place.
After his '06 season, Matthews signed a big, and questionable, 5-year, $50 million contract with the Halos. Since then, he has a batting average of .248, and 30 home runs—not exactly the kind of hitter the Angels were looking for. So, they brought in Torii Hunter to be their center fielder, which pretty much delegated Matthews to being a fourth outfielder/DH (a rather pricey one at that).
But Angels' GM Tony Reagins is no slouch. He saw the Mets had a weak spot with Beltran going down, and he exploited it. In return, he got Stokes, a key part of the Mets bullpen the last few seasons. True, Stokes had fallen out of favor with Mets' skipper Jerry Manuel, but his numbers were impressive. In 2009, he registered over five strikeouts per nine innings, and showed good command of a lively fastball and nasty slider.
So in the end, the Mets get a grumpy outfielder who may end up riding the pine, and some extra cash, for a pretty reliable reliever, when the Mets bullpen is expected to be heavily used in 2010.
My question is, why not let Pagan handle centerfield duties for the first month of the season until Beltran has recovered? He can run, that's for sure. And this way, you get to keep Stokes in a much needed bullpen.
Of course, this could end up being an extreme case of a rent-a-player strategy, where a team acquires a player only to use his services for a short period of time. Perhaps the Mets try to spin a deal off once Beltran is back to get rid of Matthews. But again, why acquire him in the first place then? After all, his "breakout" season of 2006 wasn't that eye-popping—19 home runs is not exactly going to replace Carlos Beltran's potential output.
Seems to me that Minaya, who has been slow if not stagnant much of this offseason, was a little too quick to pull the trigger on this deal.