You’ve all read it before. “The Worst Outfield Ever.” “Less speed than a sack of drowned mice.” “The highest-paid guys aren’t even on the team.” Well, it turns out only the last one was 100 percent true.
Juan Lagares can catch chickens — I’m sure of it. For all of the New York Mets’ woes, the outfield in particular drew more than its fair share of venom from the fans and press alike. With 2014 being targeted as the big season for years now, GM Sandy Alderson absolutely had to make a splash — something that gives the Mets a legitimate shot at relevancy.
Or well, at least something that puts a good-looking Band-Aid over the endless offensive horrors we’ve been forced to watch stagger in from Citi Field’s vast graveyard anyway.
Hello, Curtis Granderson! All four years and $60 million of him. He’s a legit slugger (115 homes runs, 307 RBIs last four years) who can also swipe bases (72 percent career success rate). He’s a speedy, if technically lacking center fielder (career 1.2 UZR) who should benefit by moving to right. He’s figured out how to hit lefties, more or less. The community is going to love him.
Sure, he strikes out a ton and hasn’t sniffed a respectable batting average in years (.232 BA, 195 K in 2012). So what? Nobody’s perfect and really, what were Alderson’s options? Pay up for Jacoby Ellsbury? Sign Carlos Beltran? Exactly. Like it or not, the entire Mets season may rely on Granderson’s ability to play at an All-Star level.
In 2013, we saw flashes of Lagares as a plus defender at the premium position, though he has to develop at the plate (a frustrating theme amongst the Mets’ farmhand outfielders) to become a legit player. A not-quite-ready Eric Young Jr. ended up losing his job to a one year contract at $7.5 million for underwhelming free agent Chris Young.
The only consistent offense came from Marlon Byrd, who turned around a horrid start to hit .285/21/71 with a WAR of 4.0, a full point higher than Granderson’s last full season, before being tossed aboard the Pittsburgh Pirates’ rollicking playoff train for Dilson Hererra and Vic Black. Actually, that’s a smart long-term move. Paying nearly four times as much for twice as long to hope for the same production, however, is a big risk — one Alderson had to take.
During his post-season recap, Alderson said, “We are going to have to make sure we’ve got a capable outfield.” Approaching Spring Training with more or less the same payroll figure as last year, it’s looking like Lagares will be patrolling center with Young doing his best in left and Granderson taking on an easier defensive load in right field.
Okay, this looks like a capable no. 7-9 group in the lineup. You can certainly do worse. Not in a division featuring young studs like Bryce Harper, Domonic Brown and Giancarlo Stanton obviously, but worse can be done.
And if the Mets are sniffing playoff contention in August, perhaps Young can be packaged and flipped for an upgrade in the outfield or elsewhere. Hey, maybe if Granderson bounces back, keeps a respectable average against lefties and finishes with something like 30-plus home runs and 90 or so RBIs, this offseason buys Alderson some much-needed street cred with fans.
Maybe if the Mets finally play up to that hope that Citi Field’s dimensions would be a positive instead of neutral at best … maybe if their solid starting pitching holds up with Zack Wheeler taking another step and Bartolo Colon avoiding another steroid suspension … maybe with some real lineup protection, David Wright puts on an MVP-caliber performance … maybe the thought of a Wild Card isn’t so crazy …
And that’s the problem with having to take big risks – a whole lot of maybes to maybe ending up no better or worse than you were before. Let us take this season one step at a time; focus on short-term goals. Getting through Spring Training injury-free, say? If the new-look outfield does manage to show some early signs during “The Year That It’ll Be Different,” then we can talk about standings and All-Star votes and such trivial things.
Take one step at a time, everybody — cautious optimism. That’s the only way us Mets fans will get through this.