This off-season is without question an incredibly important one for the Mets. It’s essentially the turning point for this franchise during the Alderson era, whether or not the team officially recognizes it as such. Large, crippling contracts are coming off of the books and the farm is in the process of churning out high-ceiling pitching talent the likes of which most Mets fans have never experienced. It’s no secret that the team needs to upgrade at several positions if it wants to take that next step, though. The outfield in particular is a major area in need of improvement.
Rookie Juan Lagares’ outstanding defensive performance in center field in 2013 appears to have given the Mets a clearer understanding of where to upgrade. Specifically, the value Lagares provides the Mets up the middle defensively will allow them to focus on upgrading the offense in the corners. It’s become quite clear that the Mets will have make a significant trade to upgrade one of those spots, but it’s very unlikely that they will go that route to improve both positions. The team will have to go the free agent (FA) route to plug one of those holes.
So who should the Mets target on the market? There’s been plenty of discussion on this topic, and the consensus is generally that the Mets need to invest in an upper echelon outfielder like Shin-Soo Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury. The problem lies in the cost of those players. Choo will most likely cost less in terms of years and money than Ellsbury, but both will be quite expensive. Are those two players really the cream of the crop in the outfield FA market, or just the biggest names? The table below lists the top ten FA outfielders (as listed by MLBTradeRumors) in terms of fWAR and covers the 2009 to 2013 seasons.
|Top 10 FA OF – Total WAR 09-13|
There are three things to note about the table above. The first is that the top of that list is really not shocking at all. The second is that Ben Zobrist just continues to show what a bargain he’s been for the Rays over the last five years. Finally, the second half of that list is quite uninspiring. The fact that Andres Torres is sixth on that list speaks volumes to the lack of quality outfield FAs available this off-season.
Should we be looking at only fWAR when considering outfield options, though? The Mets need outfielders who can produce offensively and don’t derive the bulk of their value from their defense. An easy way to measure this is to use one of FanGraph’s newest statistics called “Offense.” Simply stated, the Offense statistic identifies the best offensive players in the game using their batting and base-running performances. Since Offense, like fWAR, is a counting statistic, we can similarly identify the top offensive performers from the same set of FAs over the same time period.
|Top 10 FA OF – Total Off 09-13|
The top of the list remains largely the same while the bottom of the list ends up being quite sobering. That fact that Torres and Jason Bay made this top ten offensive performances list over the last five years goes a long way in showing the lack of quality in this FA class of outfielders.
We can refine our analysis of these players a bit more by examining their consistency over the same time period. Basically we’re looking to understand the highs and lows of this list of FAs to understand if their production was weighed down or lifted by outlier performances. That being said, the following graph illustrates the Offense for each of the ten players listed above from 2009 to 2013.
Although the graph above is a bit busy, it’s clear that there are groups of players that have performed fairly consistently and others that have been buoyed or crippled by outlier performances. For example, Curtis Granderson’s amazing 2011 really stands out when considering the years surrounding it. Again, keep in mind that Offense is a counting statistic so it is affected by players missing time due to injury. One need only reference Carlos Beltran’s 2010 and Choo’s 2011 to confirm that.
This information is important when considering that the Mets (as well as most other teams) will be looking to capitalize on the “mid-tier” FA model of the Red Sox last year. Beltran and Zobrist seem like sure bets to give you great value for the money they’ll likely make and would seem to fall into the “mid-tier” category. However, the Rays have already picked up Zobrist’s option for 2014 and Beltran will be another year older. After those two, Ellsbury, and Choo, the options are much less palatable.
Ellsbury obviously has the potential to perform incredibly well on the offensive side, but he’ll be exceptionally expensive and does come with some health concerns. In the end, it really seems like the Mets should make signing Choo a priority. He’ll certainly require a large investment to lock up, but should be cheaper than Ellsbury and has been more consistent both in performance and his ability to stay healthy.
If the Mets truly intend on competing in 2014, they need to upgrade both corner outfield spots. They won’t do that by only trading or only signing FAs, they’ll need to do both. Signing Choo should be the FA signing they make, with Alderson getting creative to upgrade left field via trade.