A typical National League roster in 2012 has 12 pitchers and 13 hitters. The breakdown of the hitters usually is: 2 catchers, 6 infielders and 5 outfielders. Because of the ability of Justin Turner to play all four infield positions, the Mets have gone with 5 infielders and 6 outfielders recently. But Turner’s injury yesterday throws a wrench into those plans.

It probably wasn’t a long-term plan in any event so the Mets are going to have to make some tough decisions in the near-future, ones made even more complicated by the return of Jason Bay, who has been out since April 23rd with a fractured rib. After going 8-8 with Bay active, the Mets have gone 19-14 in his absence.

Let’s take a look at the outfielders and look for their strengths and weaknesses.

Mike Baxter
Pro: Has excelled as a pinch-hitter and performed well when given a chance to start recently
Con: Hitless this year versus LHP and looks unsure in the outfield

Lucas Duda
Pro: Tied for team lead in HR and is 2nd in RBIs.
Con: Terrible defensive outfielder; has just one XBH versus a LHP in 61 PA.

Scott Hairston
Pro: Carries a 122 OPS+ this year and can play second base in a pinch.
Con: Has the same skill set as Bay but makes millions less

Kirk Nieuwenhuis
Pro: Has held his own in the majors and has a knack for coming up with the big hit
Con: Is a poor fielder and struggles versus LHP

Vinny Rottino
Pro: 2 HR in 14 ABs versus LHP; can also play corner infielder and catcher
Con: a 32 year old with 57 lifetime PA in the majors

Andres Torres
Pro: Strong defensive CF; top baserunning threat on the club
Con: Has a .416 OPS in his last 60 PA and looks worse that that at the plate

Rottino would be the likely candidate to be sent away when Bay returns or the Mets decide to go with six infielders again. Yet we cannot discount the possibility of him going Mike Jacobs on us and forcing his way onto the roster. Back in 2005, Jacobs was brought up as a stop-gap but proceeded to hit 4 HR in his first 16 PA and spent the rest of the year in the majors. Rottino has homered in back-to-back games and given his performance versus lefties and his defensive versatility, he should not be counted out so quickly.

If not Rottino, Torres would seem to be in trouble. While he’s gotten the job done defensively, as a hitter he’s been almost Jeff Duncan like, which isn’t a compliment if you never got to see him play or if you’ve successfully erased the images from your mind. Torres seemingly has no long-term future with the club. If he’s not likely to be around in 2013 and he’s not hitting in 2012 – what’s the point?

So, we will get a glimpse into what Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins value more. Will Rottino’s RHB and third-string catcher value outweigh Torres’ hands-down advantage as the team’s best defensive outfielder? The safe way out would be to keep Torres, as no one would criticize a move to keep the club’s Opening Day CF instead of a career AAAA guy.

Still, it’s fun to imagine the Mets keeping Rottino when Bay comes back and going Casey Stengel by embracing platooning at all three OF spots. Versus RHP the Mets could trot out Baxter-Nieuwenhuis-Duda and versus LHP it could be Bay-Hairston-Rottino.

That’s a pipe dream to be sure. Back to reality – what do the Mets do when Ronny Cedeno , Ruben Tejada and Turner are all healthy? All three feel like they have a spot on the major league roster. That means whichever one of Rottino/Torres survives the first cut won’t be long in the majors anyway.

The Mets have five guys on the DL now – Bay, Cedeno, Tejada, Josh Thole, Turner – yet only four players that seem like easy removals from the roster – Omar Quintanilla, Rottino, Torres and whichever backup catcher they send down. Assuming no one else gets hurt in the interim (hah!) who is the final cut?

If Torres is gone then Nieuwenhuis is safe. Ike Davis to Buffalo is still a possibility, especially with four strikeouts in his last six at-bats. Turner still has an option left. It remains to be seen if Bay still has the giant fork in his back. Hairston should not feel comfortable, despite his .937 OPS since Bay hit the DL. In fact, let’s compare Bay and Hairston the past two years:

JB – .245/.327/.383
SH – .243/.303/.486

While OBP is more valuable than SLG, there’s simply no way 24 points of OBP trumps 103 points of slugging. And when you factor in Hairston’s ability to play CF and fake things at 2B, it would be a traveshamockery if the Mets cut Hairston to keep Bay.

Turner is supposed to be out 2-3 weeks and they could always give him a rehab assignment in the minors when he comes back. But the Mets will have some tough choices to make in the next month and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out. What would you do if you were Sandy Alderson?

14 comments on “Will Scott Hairston be odd man out when walking wounded return?

  • Joe Gomes

    Capt Kirk is a poor defensive outfielder? What have you been drinking? Any OF who can play CF cannot be bad by definition and must be the best fielder out of the 3 OF positions. Had you bothered to watch Capt. Kirk play CF, you wouldn’t have make this statement which is stupid.

    If you want to point out that he struggles vs LH pitching, then you have a true statement.

    • Brian Joura

      Hi Joe – thanks for reading and commenting!

      Nieuwenhuis has a (-2) Defensive Runs Saved and a (-1.4) UZR. Those are both counting stats, like RBIs, and are rotten numbers for less than a month’s worth of playing time (221.1 innings). In a full season he would be double-digits below average in runs compared to an average CF. That meets my definition of poor.

  • Larry Smith

    Good summary but I agree with the other comment about Kirk’s defense. He is no Gold Glover but he is the second best outfielder on the team behind only Torres.

    • Brian Joura

      Well, those two things are not mutually exclusive! Meaning that he could be a poor outfielder and yet still the second-best one on the club.

      • David Groveman

        Gonna chime in on the Kirk Nieuwenhuis bit. I think he’s hurt by playing CF which he’s a bit large bodied for. He’d be better suited to LF or RF. Given time and an ideal position I think he’d be around league average in terms of defense if not better. He has made some mistakes thus far, but I think we need to be a little more forgiving of rookies and early troubles.

  • Chris

    We live in interesting times here in Mets-land. First, Im taken again and again that we keep talking about this team as a contender. It really is astonishing that here as June begins, that is even a phrase possible of being uttered. It shows that TC has gotten a lot out of the rag-tag group of youngsters. Realistically, this Mets fan finds a real run to September this year very very unlikely. I love it that its on our minds though…and with hopes for a couple years from now that we have some real hope in a tough division. Second, I find it amazing that enough of the bench and newbies have performed to such a level that we need to contemplate who will not make the 25-man roster when the starters return. Thats a nice/interesting problem to have!

    I have never been a believe that salary = a starting position. I know thats not the game that the MLB is though. In Bay’s case the sample size is large enough to see where he really is at; and it is not good. He will never get another contract in NY. He will certainly be on the team upon being cleared, but he needs to earn a starting spot. I think more than likely Rottino, much as he has endeared himself and his great story to Mets fans, will be heading down…but on constant watch to be back up. If Bay has a rotten June, I hazard to guess what the outcome may be. Terry and Sandy have to win games. And back to the start again. I cant see this vintage being a contender, but if we can leave 2012 at 500 and have discovered some gems in the young talent pool, then this has been a great season.

    • Kareem

      As I’m sure any person reading this, stumbling across Mets news or wearing orange & blue knows, its not easy being a Mets fan. I’ll leave the stat accounting to my betters but my one and only point- EVER- will be that


      Standing next to the rest of us with our inner child having watched, prayed, and sonetimes cry at the end of 9 innings, after 162 loooooong games, acting like you were cganting “You Gotta Believe!” everyday. I am sick and tired of “fans” saying “maybe in a few years”, “maybe, maybe, maybe…” blah, blah, blah.

      If you don’t have the heart, and the stomach, to be an Amazin’s Fan every single day, every game, every inning tyen maybe you need to pick a navy pinstriped tee’s and start watchings baseball in the Bronx- cause thats what weak-hearted fans do.

      • Kareem

        Excuse my spelling errors. Heated typing and ipads don’t mix well.

        • Chris F

          I root for the Mets every day and have done so since 1970 when I first knew about baseball. All I was saying is that given when they were at spring training, and where all the predictions were, this team has been a remarkable success. Will they be over .500 this year? I hope so, but that would be incredible. Will they be contenders for the NL East in Sept? I doubt it. That doesn’t mean I don’t watch and cheer every game….win or lose.

  • Chris

    As for Kirk. He passes the smell test. He is capable of making genuinely highlight reel plays (remember, he was a finalist for RoM in April) on defense. Sure he’s flubbed a few, and the charged error in TO was really Baxter’s fault, but he’s doing fine in CF in my eyes.

    • Mike Koehler

      I’m not sure I’d call him a poor defender either, even if the stats suggest it.
      He makes most of the routine plays without looking lost and makes a few spectacular plays. Will he ever be Endy Chavez in the field? No, but he’s looking solid for a kid who’s still fairly new to the big show.

      • Brian Joura

        Well, it’s not just the stats. Captain Clutch came to the majors with a reputation as a below-average defender and scouts were saying they didn’t think he could stick in CF. Right now I think he can play CF in the majors but I would be surprised if he was still a CF in, say, six years or so.

  • Metsense

    If I were Sandy Alderson my outfield would be when Bay gets back, Bay LF, Torres/Nieuwenhuis CF Hairston/Baxter in RF, Duda at 1B and Davis at Buffalo. I would start there until someone gets exposed or Davis rips up AAA. Then I’d reevaluate again. In the INF it is Rottino as corner backup, Cedeno up the middle backup, Turner gets his job back when he comes back. If everyone is producing, the calendar would turn to July and I would decide who is my future and trade the excess pieces. Bay is not back yet so even all this is premature (but fun).

  • Dan Stack

    Funny to think but with the HR tonight, Hairston is our club leader in HR’s.

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