When this season started, everyone pointed to the Mets’ outfield as a major weakness. At the time, everyone wasn’t wrong. Coming out of Florida, the “set” lineup was Lucas Duda in left field, Collin Cowgill in center and a combination of Mike Baxter, Marlon Byrd and Jordany Valdespin manning right. Not exactly a group that will make you forget the power, speed and defense combination of Don Buford/Paul Blair/Frank Robinson from the 1968-71 Orioles or even the starting outfield of the Mets’ last pennant winner in 2000 – Benny Agbayani/Jay Payton/Derek Bell. As expected, the 2013 version stumbled through the first month-to-six-weeks of the season. Sandy Alderson answered decisively. Cowgill was demoted and Juan Lagares arrived. A trade was made for Eric Young, Jr. Byrd hit his way into being a fulltime starter. Suddenly a semi-productive outfield was born. Young brings a speed dimension which had been missing, Lagares totes an outstanding glove and Byrd has become a hit machine.
Only one of them should be starting in 2014.
Marlon Byrd has been nothing short of remarkable this season. He’s hitting well enough that some question the source of his rejuvenation. After all, he did receive a 50-game suspension last season – a season in which he put up a total slash line .210/.243/.245 (a pathetic .488 OPS) — for violating MLB’s anti-PED policy. With all antennae tuned to PED violations this year in the wake of the Biogenesis revelations, it is unsurprising that a recent violator would come under scrutiny. Be that as it may – PEDs or no PEDs – Byrd is having a marvelous year, yes, but one that is unlikely to be repeated. One need only look back as far as the likes of Moises Alou, Jose Vantentin or Shawn Green to see the folly in rewarding a fluky offensive year. As good as Byrd has been, he rides the pine in 2014, unless he finds greener pastures elsewhere.
Eric Young is pretty fast and plays better-than-decent defense, but at the moment he’s still only hitting .250 – if batting average is still your bag – with very little power, a .326 slugging pct. He may finally land at second base, but the organization loves Daniel Murphy too much for that to happen. A more likely spot for him in the future might be the Justin Turner role: a utility guy who can play both the infield and outfield passably enough to spell the starters and maybe pinch-hit.
So if we’re eliminating 2/3 of the outfield in 2014, who are the replacements? Your intrepid columnist expects one to be acquired via trade, the other to be signed as a free agent. Let’s tackle the trade first, with a gaze to the west. The Dodgers have been on a magic carpet ride of a second half, even while battling semi-constant injuries to their stellar center fielder Matt Kemp. His replacement in the outfield has done little to ingratiate himself with manager Don Mattingly or upper management with his sometimes-torpid play. When Kemp returns, this will obviously create a glut in the LA outfield and offer a prime candidate to be moved in the offseason. In one man’s opinion, Andre Ethier will be heading east, most likely in exchange for some young pitching, of which the Mets have the most – think Dillon Gee, Bobby Parnell, one of either Jacob deGrom or Rafael Montero and an organizational guy or two for Ethier and an offset to his contract, and/or some international signing slot money.
As for the other spot, the two most desirable free agent outfielders on the horizon are Shin-Soo Choo of the Reds and the Red Sox’ Jacoby Ellsbury. Either would be a welcome addition on the Queens greensward, on both sides of the ball. Both could slot into the leadoff post, both get on base at an impressive clip, both can run ‘em down with the best of ‘em. The choice here is Choo, if for no other reason than he already knows the NL and there would be little to no adjustment period. He also reaches base at a slightly higher clip than Ellsbury — .415 to .356. If he would agree to something around a 4-year/$45 million deal, we could see him patrolling left field at the Citi.
The lineup would look something like this, then:
If they get any kind of production out of first or short, this group might present a reason to print playoff tickets in 2014.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley