Last winter, Mets fans were dying for a free agent transaction. On February 1st, 2013, Sandy Alderson gave us one by signing Marlon Byrd to a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. The signing resulted in the unleashing of a collective groan among Mets fans. Byrd’s career had been assumed to be over after a terrible 2012 season that resulted in the former All-Star’s release from the Red Sox in June. When it was found out that the Byrd signing had been done as a favor to a friend by Alderson, the fans groans grew louder. Byrd subsequently made the team out of spring training, with the expectation of being the team’s fourth outfielder. Despite all evidence that he wouldn’t be a productive player again, Byrd would go onto hit 21 home runs, knock in 71 runs and produce an .848 OPS in 117 games as a Met, before being traded in a waiver move to the Pirates, with John Buck, for Dilson Herrera and Vic Black. In the subsequent offseason, the player who had resuscitated his career by playing in the Mexican league after his release from the Red Sox, would sign a two-year, $16 million free agent contract with the Phillies. The Byrd story was somewhat magical and continues to be as his second life as a baseball player has continued. As of Wednesday night’s action, Byrd has hit 18 home runs, knocked in 52 runs and posted a .797 OPS in 90 games. For 75,000 more dollars, that’s a ton more production than what the Mets have gotten out of Chris Young.
So why bring up Byrd? Because he’s reportedly available and meets a Mets need.
So what do the Mets need? Well let’s clear the table of a few things. The bullpen is fine. It’s full of young arms and pitchers trying to prove that they belong. It will have its up’s and down’s, but that’s to be expected from a group of young pitchers trying to form into what could be a dominant bullpen for years to come. The starting rotation is a strong point and Mets fans have come to expect at least one, and many times more than one, exceptional start each week.
The Mets issues come down to offense and the issues with the offense can be illustrated in Curtis Granderson, Travis d’Arnaud, Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda.
Let’s start with Granderson. After his first 19 games of the season, Granderson bottomed out at a .116 AVG, one home run and .442 OPS. Inevitable comparisons to Jason Bay were occurring left and right. Since that date, April 22nd, Granderson has hit .272 with an .874 OPS and 13 home runs over 69 games. If Granderson produced at that level for a whole season, he would hit 30 home runs, well worth the $15 million he’s getting paid on average annually. The issue is that Granderson was brought to this team to provide that 30 home-run power to the cleanup spot behind David Wright. Unfortunately Granderson was totally unsuccessful in that spot in the order and has seen his resurgence come about while hitting leadoff, where over 15 games he’s hit five of those home runs, got on base nearly 38% of the time and produced a .963 OPS. The only place he’s hit in the order better is fifth, where he’s produced a 1.179 OPS over 10 games. So, it appears the Mets have found either their leadoff hitter or a five or six slot hitter, but that still leaves them without a clean-up hitter, which was the whole point of signing Granderson in the first place.
These lineup issues are further illustrated by Tejada. Through his first 39 games, Tejada was producing a paltry .183 batting average and 519 OPS that was bolstered by the fact that he had been walked intentionally 5 times. Taking out those intentional walks, his OPS dropped to .486, the numbers of a player barely surviving in the big leagues. Over his next 38 games, he’s had a completely different season, batting .294 with a terrific .396 OBP and a solid .769 OPS. Basically, the Mets have seen the resurgence of the Tejada from 2011 and 2012. Tejada is also playing the best defense of his career, posting career highs in fielding percentage and range. All of this has led to Tejada having a cumulative WAR of 0.9 after 77 games this season, which is great when one considers that he was barely hitting at a major league level after 39 games. The problem is that Tejada provides nothing in terms of power. A baseball team can handle such a player if they make up for that bat elsewhere, such as in a corner outfield spot. Granderson is providing punch out of right field, but he’s hitting best in the leadoff spot. Left field has been abysmal and has most often been patrolled by Eric Young Jr., who has only minutely better power than Tejada and is also a leadoff type hitter.
When one then looks at d’Arnaud and Duda, the lineup problems become extremely obvious. Duda is having the best season of his career, producing a .223 ISO over 307 plate appearances. That should be ideal numbers for a clean-up hitter, but Duda is strictly a platoon player. Duda is inept against lefties, which has led to a platoon with Eric Campbell after Josh Satin’s poor start. Platoons shouldn’t sit in the middle of the order because of the inconsistent nature of them. A batting order, at its best, has set slots where certain levels of production are expected from the players that man them on a daily basis. Where would the Mets of 1985 through 1987 have been without Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry manning the middle of that order game in and game out? How good would have the Mets of 1998 through 2001 been without Mike Piazza hitting third or fourth? Platoons can be very successful when done right and at this moment, the Duda-Campbell platoon is being done correctly. That platoon though, should be relegated to hitting either fifth or sixth instead of fourth.
In the case of d’Arnaud, his skill set profiles as a power hitter and he could eventually develop into a Mets slugging catcher, which would be a huge plus. Since d’Arnaud’s return from Las Vegas on June 24th, some of that talent has begun to materialize. Over those 13 games, d’Arnaud has hit .300 with a .900 OPS, three home runs and 10 RBI. Those are excellent clean up type numbers, but we’re talking about a young player that is just starting to have success at this level, so it’s not advisable to move him into a higher pressure position in the order at this time.
So, have you figured out the issue? The lineup could be very productive if the team had someone to hit fourth. Byrd could fill that role for now. He makes very little money, is a veteran and has already been successful in New York. Byrd is also an excellent clubhouse guy. The lineup with Byrd hitting fourth would make it so that all of the spots and people have their part to play. Granderson could hit leadoff, where he’s most comfortable. Daniel Murphy, one of the best two hitters in the game, can continue to do what he does from that spot. Wright will have a bit more support behind him, like he did last year (someone going by the name of Byrd) when he had such an excellent offensive season. After Byrd, the Duda/Campbell platoon could settle into the five spot, or Granderson could when Young Jr. hits leadoff. d’Arnaud can stay comfortable in the seven hole and Tejada can remain where his production is ok, right before the pitcher. That also gives Terry Collins the ability to make sure that Juan Lagares hits anywhere outside of the middle of the order, where his aggression and lack of power isn’t suitable.
Would the Phillies trade Byrd? Reportedly yes, and it’s hard to conceive that the Mets would have to give up all that much to get him. Consider that the Mets got Black and Herrera last year from the Pirates for Byrd and Buck in a season where Byrd was having a better year and was under a miniscule salary amount. The Mets could probably get away with a Single-A pitching prospect and a decent position player prospect. How about something like Hansel Robles or Gabriel Ynoa and Matt Reynolds? Byrd definitely wouldn’t cost Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Herrera, Brandon Nimmo or Kevin Plawecki, and if the Phillies asked for any of those players in return for Byrd, then the Mets should rightly say no. But if the Mets could get him for much less, he’s a player that could make the lineup stable, provide some pop in the middle and potentially put this team a spot where a wild card or division run isn’t totally out of the question. At the very least, he would help the team become relevant again and push it towards an above .500 record.
The Mets fans have also gotten way to use to being sellers at the trade deadline. This summer, Alderson should go out and buy the Mets some Byrd.