The Chris Wilcox’s BlueAndOrange.net plan for 2010 – The Outfield

Third part of a series.  For my plan for the catcher’s spot, go here, and for the infield, go here.

The Mets’ outfield situation for next season begins and ends in left field.  Carlos Beltran and Jeff Francouer will likely be back to start in center field and right field, respectively.  Angel Pagan has played well enough to replace Jeremy Reed as the team’s primary backup outfielder.  I’d like to think that they aren’t bringing back Cory Sullivan, but I’ve been wrong before.  And Gary Sheffield is unlikely to return as the team’s starting left fielder, as it’s doubtful he can handle playing a full season in the field.  Let’s take a look at what’s out there and what the Mets can do to try to add a few wins next year.

Center Field

Players under team control:  Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan 

Expiring contracts:  None.

Possible free agents:  Rick Ankiel, Rocco Baldelli, Marlon Byrd, Mike Cameron, Endy Chavez, Coco Crisp*, Darin Erstad, Ryan Freel, Jerry Hairston Jr, Reed Johnson, Andruw Jones, Gabe Kapler, Mark Kotsay, Corey Patterson, Scott Podsednik

* – team or mutual option for 2010

Trade candidates:  It seems unlikely that the Mets will trade for a center fielder.

Center field is probably the outfield spot with the least to talk about.  Carlos Beltran will be back, and hopefully his bad knees will be able to withstand another season in center field.  Sooner rather than later, they will have to think about moving him to left field to save his knees, but I don’t think it’s going to be this year.  That said, there are some interesting defense-only outfielders available in the open market if they wanted to think about that.  Coco Crisp, Endy Chavez, and Mike Cameron (and wouldn’t it be ironic if the Mets signed Cameron so they could move Beltran to a corner?) will all be available.  Putting Beltran in LF and bringing in a great defensive center fielder would be a pretty smart cost-efficient way to fill left field, since defense costs less than offense.  It’s something that the team should think about.

Angel Pagan proved that he is at least a competent enough reserve outfielder, and should be brought back to fill that role next year.  He isn’t even arbitration eligible yet, so he is very cost-efficient for the Mets.

My suggestion:  At least ask Beltran about moving to left field for 2010, bringing up the wear and tear it would save his knees.  If he is receptive, sign Mike Cameron to a 1-2 year deal to play center field.  If he won’t sign, look into bringing in Crisp or Chavez to fill CF, even if the fanbase will be aghast and the newspapers will kill them for it.  If that fails, stick with Beltran in center for another year and hope the knee holds out.  Pagan is the 4th outfielder.

Right Field

Players under team control:  Jeff Francoeur, Jeremy Reed, Cory Sullivan 

Expiring contracts:  None

Possible free agents:  Bobby Abreu, Jermaine Dye*, Brian Giles, Vladimir Guerrero, Eric Hinske, Geoff Jenkins*, Gabe Kapler, Austin Kearns*, Jason Michaels, Xavier Nady, Randy Winn

* – team or mutual option for 2010

Trade candidates:  None.

There isn’t likely to be a change here, either.  Jeff Francoeur has been a good, not great, hitter since the Mets acquired him for Ryan Church in early July.  I still don’t think it was a good trade, but he has earned at least an opportunity to return in 2010.  I would definitely avoid giving him anything past a one year contract, as there is no rush to lock him up long-term.  Buying out his arbitration years means that if he does revert to the Jeff Francoeur of 2008, the team is stuck with him.  At least if they sign him to a one year contract, if he stinks again in 2010, they can just non-tender him and be done with him.

I would jettison both Reed and Sullivan.  Getting Reed back in the Putz trade seemed like a good idea at the time, but it’s become clear that he’s just a failed prospect.  Cory Sullivan is a 30 year old outfielder, neither a good hitter nor a good fielder.  There is no good reason for him to remain with the organization, not even on another minor league deal.  That Reed and Sullivan were given around 300 plate appearances this season is another indictment of the 2009 Mets.  These are simply not the types of players championship ballclubs give playing time.

My suggestion:  I say this grudgingly, but keep Jeff Francoeur around for another year and see what happens.  Get rid of Reed and Sullivan and let Pagan, Murphy, and Evans fill the lion’s share of the backup duty in right.

Left Field

Players under team control:  Fernando Martinez, Nick Evans, Daniel Murphy 

Expiring contracts:  Gary Sheffield, Fernando Tatis

Possible free agents:  Bobby Abreu, Garrett Anderson, Marlon Anderson, Jason Bay, Emil Brown, Marlon Byrd, Carl Crawford*, Johnny Damon, David Dellucci, Cliff Floyd, Matt Holliday, Reed Johnson, Jacque Jones, Gabe Kapler, Greg Norton, Wily Mo Pena, Manny Ramirez*, Dave Roberts, Randy Winn

Fernando Martinez, Nick Evans, Daniel Murphy Garry Sheffield, Fernando TatisBobby Abreu, Garrett Anderson, Marlon Anderson, Jason Bay, Emil Brown, Marlon Byrd, Carl Crawford*, Johnny Damon, David Dellucci, Cliff Floyd, Matt Holliday, Reed Johnson, Jacque Jones, Gabe Kapler, Greg Norton, Wily Mo Pena, Manny Ramirez*, Dave Roberts, Randy Winn* – team or mutual option for 2010

Trade candidates:  Crawford (assuming the Rays picked up the option, a pretty safe bet)

None of the players under team control are a reliable option for the Mets to start in left field, so they are going to have to divert some resources towards signing a left fielder.  I already made one suggestion for filling left field, which would be moving Beltran over from center field and signing a defense-oriented center fielder like Mike Cameron or Endy Chavez.  If that isn’t an option, either because Beltran doesn’t want to move or because Cameron won’t come back to the Mets, here are some other suggestions for filling their open left field spot.

The obvious idea would be to sign Matt Holliday.  While it sounds like the typical Omar Minaya move of going after the best free agents, there might be some merit towards getting Holliday.  His hitting has always been good.  He struggled a bit to start the season while playing in a pitcher’s park in Oakland, but it looks like it was more bad luck than anything else.  I think Holliday can hit home runs at Citi Field.  He’s also been an adept defensive player during his time in the majors, with a 6.0 UZR/150 over six seasons.  Certainly, he would make the team better right away.

Where Holliday might be a problem is the contract.  He is going to want something similar to what Beltran is making, in the 7 years/$118 million range, possibly more.  Jon Heyman, for his part (and for Scott Boras’ part) is trying to inflate the market value into Beltran territory.  The difference is, when Beltran signed his deal, he was heading into his age 28 season, and while I love watching Beltran play when he’s healthy, we are currently experiencing what happens in the later years of some of these long-term contracts.  Holliday is entering his age 30 season, so he’s two years older than Beltran was when he signed.  Sure, Holliday will be great short-term, but we have seen what happens with the Omar Minaya long-term contracts.

Another option would be trading for Carl Crawford.  Sam Page of Amazin Avenue gave a strong recommendation for acquiring Crawford along with Prince Fielder (discussed yesterday).  Crawford would give the team a strong defensive presence in left field, which might give Beltran’s knees a little extra help not having to patrol so much ground.  He would also give the team a strong top of the order bat, similar in many ways to Jose Reyes in that both are speedy, high batting average, middle-range OBP players, although Reyes hits for more power.

The problem with Crawford is more along the lines of availability.  The St. Petersburg Times wrote that the Rays are likely to pick up his option, and unlikely to trade him, preferring to deal BJ Upton instead.  That reads to me that the Rays are willing to deal Crawford, but he’s not going to come cheap, and then there’s the issue of having to sign him afterwards.  While Crawford would be an excellent addition to this team, particularly with questions about Reyes after he comes back from hamstring surgery, he may simply not be available, and if he is, it may be for more than the Mets are willing to part.

That leaves the rest of the free agency field.  All have flaws, mostly in the age category.  Jason Bay had as good a season as Holliday this year, but is two years older and looking for the same contract, making him a bigger risk.  Randy Winn is a great defender in left, but is coming off of a dreadful year at the plate.  Bobby Abreu was the opposite, he just had a great year at the plate but was dreadful afield, and after suffering through Cliff Floyd, Moises Alou, and Gary Sheffield, sticking Beltran with Abreu in left would be horribly unfair.  Marlon Byrd would be a capable fielder in left, but it’s unlikely his bat would translate well moving from Arlington to Queens.  The same for Johnny Damon moving from the Bronx to Queens, minus the capable fielder part (although my friend Will mentioned him as a possible first baseman, which is interesting).

So…what to do?

My suggestion:  Kick the tires on Crawford first and find out how serious the Rays are about trading him.  If they have interest and a deal can be put together, great.  If not, look at the stop gap options like Byrd, Winn, Abreu, and Damon.  Byrd might not be a horrible option if only for the defense, the fact that he will not likely command much money, and the small chance that he can hit in Citi Field.  Remember, Fernando Martinez might not be that far away.  Wait out Matt Holliday for a while, and if nobody is biting on his contract demands, see if he will sign for 5 years/$85 million.  It’s probably a no, but you never know.

Next: The Bullpen

Thanks to MLBtraderumors.com for their list of available free agents for 2010.

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