Yesterday the Mets signed free agent outfielder Tommy Pham to a 1/$6 million deal with incentives that could push the total value to $8 million. The move was met with mostly positive reaction, as Pham gives the team a reliable fourth outfielder, one capable of playing CF in a pinch. But to me, this is a move straight out of the playbook from bad Sandy Alderson. Grab a guy who was last good on another team three years ago just to avoid giving a guy from the farm system a shot.

In 2017, Pham was a down-ballot MVP pick, as he finished 11th in the voting thanks to a 144 OPS+. But he quickly fell out of favor and was shipped to the Rays in the middle of the following season. Pham did fine in his year and a half in Tampa but soon found himself on the move again, this time to the Padres. He did not have a good run in San Diego and left as a free agent, signing with the Reds. Pham was even worse with Cincinnati, which ended up sending him to the Red Sox. Boston was underwhelmed with his production, allowing him to leave via free agency. And now he’s a Met.

At this point, it’s a proud tradition of the Mets, going dumpster diving with guys with limited upside, ones who haven’t been good in years. Off the top of my head, the names that jump to mind are Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez and James Loney. You can probably think of three other guys that fit the bill. Guys well on the wrong side of 30, ones who haven’t been good in years. But the average fan recognizes the name, so they think it will work out just fine. And it usually does in a brief span. But if you’re hoping for more than a six-week hot streak, well, there’s this bridge in Brooklyn that’s for sale that you might be interested in, too.

Since leaving the Rays, Pham has a .696 OPS in 1,308 PA.

People point out that Pham has a lifetime .843 OPS versus LHP, making him an ideal platoon partner with Daniel Vogelbach. The only problem is that we sang that same tune when Darin Ruf was acquired last year. At the time the Mets picked him up last season, Ruf had a lifetime .929 OPS against LHP. With the Mets, the 35-year-old Ruf put up a .413 OPS.

Pham turns 35 in March.

Its one thing to pick up over-the-hill guys when they fill a spot for which you simply have no good internal alternative. But two of the Mets’ top prospects – Francisco Alvarez and Mark Vientos – could have filled the righty-hitting DH spot. And both Mark Canha and Starling Marte are better options to fill in defensively in CF than Pham.

None of us have a crystal ball that allows us to predict with 100% accuracy what a player will do. Our best strategy is to follow historical trends, both with the individual player and how his peer group have performed. Pham has not been good recently and in this post-PED period, it’s a losing proposition to expect big things from guys in their mid-30s who aren’t superstars.

My opinion is that the Braves are a remarkably fortunate organization. But one thing that even jealous haters like me have to acknowledge is that they aren’t afraid to give young guys from their system a chance. Just in the last few years, they’ve given shots to 20-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr., 20-year-old Ozzie Albies, 22-year-old Austin Riley, 23-year-old William Contreras, 22-year-old Cristian Pache, 21-year-old Michael Harris and 21-year-old Vaughn Grissom. And six of those seven guys have rewarded the team with good or better performances. Only Pache was a bust.

Every PA given to Pham and Ruf are ones that should go to Alvarez and Vientos, instead. But you’ll hear people say that Alvarez needs to work on his defense and that Vientos can’t be trusted at all with the glove. With Alvarez, that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can go back in Mets history and recall a time that Wally Backman wasn’t good enough defensively, so we had to live with the likes of Brian Giles and Tucker Ashford, instead. And when Davey Johnson came along and finally played Backman, turned out his defense wasn’t that awful after all.

And you just know that if Alvarez spends half the year in the minors and then comes up and performs adequately defensively, people will say with a straight face that those 50 minor league games made all the difference.

We were told that Juan Lagares wouldn’t be able to be a starting CF defensively. We were told that Michael Conforto was a lousy defensive outfielder. We were told that Pete Alonso wasn’t going to be able to hack it defensively. How many times are we going to take these broad defensive evaluations at face value?

Fans (and the front office) are so willing to believe that these defensive limitations are both real and large enough to destroy the team that they’re willing to suffer with guys who can no longer hit at a reasonable level. What’s more likely to sink the season – Alvarez behind the plate or Ruf in the batter’s box?

Everyone talks about the Mets needing more power in the lineup. Both Alvarez and Vientos have power and that duo would likely deliver more HR if given the same playing time as Pham and Ruf.

You have to give more than lip service to your alleged ideals. Alderson used to talk about power and OBP but he rarely backed up the talk about OBP. The current administration talks about wanting to develop youngsters from the organization to supplement big free agent moves. Part of developing youngsters is actually playing them in games that count. The Braves do it with their youngsters but the Mets are seemingly allergic to the idea.

Instead, we’re left hoping Pham and Ruf can pretend it’s 2019 again.

22 comments on “Mets add to legacy of preferring guys who were good on another team three years ago

  • Hobie

    Thought we’d go 3 catchers, with Alvarez getting maybe 40 @ #2 and 60? at DH. Baty significant time in LF w/ Canha and Escobar as UT.
    Now we have a bench of Nido, Pham, Ruf & Guilorme?

    • Brian Joura

      My opinion was that Baty was never under consideration for the MLB team on Opening Day. With Vientos already having played a full season at Triple-A, it made more sense to me to use him as the bench bat than Baty.

  • TexasGusCC

    It’s understandable that Duvall and any worthwhile outfielder would want a starting job somewhere, so for backups you get the guys that have given up on that.

    As for Eppler, he is no different than Steve Philips, Jim Duquette, or any other average baseball guy that got a break.

    • Brian Joura

      It may be nothing more than the baseball optimist in me but I’d like to think of Eppler as better than Phillips and Duquette.

  • T.J.

    I was initially pleased with the Pham signing, then displeased once I saw his recent performance (and slapping issue), then settled at “whatever”. The numbers are pretty clear in what to expect. He is clearly a 4th OF, and in 2023 the cost of a declining vet bat is $6-$8 million.

    I’ll take the glass-half-full approach – while the move is right in Brian’s wheelhouse noted in the title of this article, the new regime gets some time to prove it isn’t the same as similar moves in prior years. I see this move mostly as an assessment that they are on the fence regarding Vientos. Yes he has a “full” season at AAA, but that amounts to about 450 PA for a guy that just turned 23 and doesn’t have a clear home defensively. He needs to hit, hit every day, and play somewhere on the field every day. If he rakes in AAA while Pham is playing like 2022 in Flushing, then we’ll see what Eppler/Cohen are made of. This owner can afford to “lose” $8 million in the blink of an eye, so let’s see how it goes.

    Baty is and should be ticketed for AAA. He needs more AB there, and certainly needs to work on his game in the field. Like Vientos, they should not be wasting games playing him at DH in AAA>

    Lastly, with regards to Alvarez, I think the extension of Nido yesterday says more that the signing of Pham as to what the plan is for Alvarez. Like the other prospects, a part-time role in the bigs is not wise long term, unless it is near the end of the season after playing daily somewhere. He has only played 165 games defensively at C in his professional career. Under 1,400 innings. Another 50 games should matter in his development. He may need more. He just turned 21. He has under 200 AB a the AAA level. A little more time at AAA is likely best for him.

    I know the Braves have had great success with their kids, but frankly, in several cases there are some differences that I see. Some of their kids have been better defensive prospects, coming to the bigs to “fill in”, provide defense, and any offense would be bonus (Harris, Grissom). Contreras has some similarities to the Met prospects although not rated as high as Alvarez. Riley was a stud with pop so he pretty much played, with a bump or two…the Mets did the same with Alonso without bumps. Lets also not forget McNeil and Nimmo…both home grow guys who likely would have been up sooner and given a lot of MLB AB if it wasn’t for multiple injuries in the minors.

    I am high on each of these guys, and Mauricio as well. Syracuse could be must see baseball to start 2023 (once it warms up). As Bobby V said, these guys need to put AAA behind them. They can force the issue. If they do and don’t get solid time in the bigs, I’ll agree with the same old Mets take.

  • Boomboom

    I really see this move as more abt the 4th OF role and strengthening the bench. An upgrade from Naquin perhaps? Would have preferred Profar for his all around flexibility and speed as a switch hitter. Vientos as the RH dh would be sitting a lot and not sure that s a fair spot for a rookie.

  • Footballhead

    Amen Brian, amen! The way you pointed out what the Braves have done, and what we are continuing doing; is why we will always be a 2nd class organization….no matter how much $$$ Cohen throws around.

  • ChrisF

    Look this is a 4th OF role who will spend of the time on the pine. I would not want to sacrifice the development of Baty or Alvarez in order to give them very sporadic play. The other thing is that the position is OF not DH. The bats that Pham gets, my guess and hope, will come while he is also in the field.

    Baty can use time with an OF glove. Do we want to convict him as a DH this early in his career? His arrival last year came from necessity. Alvarez plays the most premium defensive position on the field, so he development as a catcher isn’t worth the cost of giving him a small number of ABs. Clearly the team does not believe he is going to be primary catcher this year.

    The Braves brought up a bunch of studs, and landed a lot of fortune. Even Contreras lasted barely a hot minute before being traded.

    I think most here, myself included, want to see the kids come in. My personal feeling is to drip them in slowly when they are ready and the team needs them. Right now, let’s face it, this team is a vet team assembled with the hope of catching lightning in a bottle with aged short timers leading the charge. What feels different here is this: In past seasons, the A-gons and Abreu’s and Bautista’s were sort of big deal’s to get done. Our big deal was Verlander; by contrast, Pham is just sitting in the background that will be eking out any time on the field. He’s not special, and no one thinks he is. Put another way, if Pham gets a lot of ABs then the team is sunk.

    • Brian Joura

      Here’s how many PAs the OF with the fourth-most had for the other four teams in the NL East last year:

      ATL – Duvall, 315
      MIA – Soler, 306
      PHI – Vierling, 357
      WSN – Hernandez, 327

      The Mets were different because they frequently had McNeil move to the OF. He had 181 PA as an OF. You add that to Naquin’s 130 PA and you get something that fits right in with the other four teams in the division. That’s more PA than I want to give to Pham and it’s enough PA not to stunt the growth of an Alvarez or Vientos – even if they wouldn’t necessarily come from the OF position.

      It all comes down to how you want to approach things. You can look for reasons to play young guys or you can look for reasons not to play them. The Mets fall in the latter camp and I wish they were in the former.

      • ChrisF

        One thing I dont hear in this is that the Mets are constructed to challenge for a WS this season and next. I think putting a handful of 21 yo experiments in the bigs when winning a WS is the only goal for the team is high risk on all fronts. So is Alvarez really going to have to learn how to catch and carry a whole new staff as well as rake at the plate. I just dont see it. Baty has zero business in Queens. He showed almost nothing in his 38 AB. He really needs to play hard baseball every day. I can see Vientos as a gamble at DH.

        If this was the Marlins, then I’d have a very different feeling.

  • Name

    While we rag on the Mets for giving shots to older players, let’s not pretend this doesn’t happen often for other clubs as well.

    Let’s look at the Braves and see who they’ve given shots to has beens.
    2022: Cano. Remember this? And this was after he was cut by Two other clubs in the span of months. So while you appluad the Braves for playing Vaughn Grissom, it was clearly not their preferred choice, so should they really get credit for doing so?
    2021: Pablo Sandoval, Lucroy
    2020: Nick Markakis
    2019: Matt Joyce (this one actually paid dividends)
    2018: Jose Bautista (yep. they tried this route too)

    I dont think the Mets “problem with older players” is as bad as you think compared to other clubs.

    • Name

      Rosario – promoted age 21
      Smith – promoted age 22
      Guillorme – promoted age 23
      Giminez – unexpectedly promoted age 21
      Alvarez – promoted age 20
      Vientos/Baty – promoted age 22

      That’s also 7 players for the Mets and maybe 1 if you squint (Giminez) you could classify as immediate dividends. So the question to ask is why Mets youngsters fail early in their career and not why the Mets keep going to older players.

      • Brian Joura

        Vientos, Baty and Alvarez combined for 97 PA so it’s not exactly an even comparison for what the Braves youngsters were doing.

        • Name

          I can excuse Alvarez, but Baty and Vientos had 42/41 PA respectively.

          This is how the Braves youngsters did in their first 40-42 PA
          Riley : 1.131 OPS
          Grissom: 1.109 OPS
          Acuna: 1.022 OPS
          Contreras: 977 OPS (ignoring his 10 PA debut in 2020, of which he had a 900 OPS)
          Albies: 729 OPS
          Harris: 700 OPS
          Pache : 496 OPS

          And the Mets players
          Giminez: 740 OPS
          Rosario: 737 OPS
          Baty: 586 OPS
          Smith: 559 OPS
          Vientos: 546 OPS
          Guillorme: 488 OPS

          Like i said, it’s easy to keep playing youngsters when they are crushing it in the first 2 weeks in the majors. Are the Braves just lucky or are the Mets unlucky or is there some baseball development reason?

          • Brian Joura

            That’s just 10 games. And in Vientos’ case, it was over 35 days.

            We shouldn’t make any judgments over 40-something PA. But I do think you’re right that it’s easier to keep giving guys PA when they perform right away. It’s the Kirk Nieuwenhuis phenomenon.

            The Braves lucky?!?!? That can’t be.

            • Name

              It’s 10 games over 6-7 players which is over 200 PA. Approaching if not already at statistically relevant range.

              Maybe the debut month matters.
              Braves: 3x April, 3x May, 1x August
              Mets: 1x May, 2x August, 2x September

              The Braves debut their players a lot earlier in the year, which also fits in with the fact that they cut ties with older players quicker, while the Mets prefer the late season callup.

              The Mets only tend to be more aggressive in callups for the olderish players (23+), and the immediate dividends are much better.
              April: Alonso
              June: Nimmo
              July: McNeil, Conforto

    • Brian Joura

      If you look at how the Mets and Braves operate, you’ll see that while the Braves will use old guys, they’ll move on from them much quicker than the Mets will. Jose Bautista got 40 PA with the Braves. He got 302 with the Mets. Cano had just 27 PA with the Braves and was on their squad for 16 days – about half of the time he was on the Mets.

      Sandoval got 86 PA with the Braves. Lucroy had 9.

      Atlanta picked up Markakis at age 31 and he was productive for them thru age 34, when he had a 116 OPS+. When he declined at age 35, his playing time dropped by 236 PA.

      Maybe that’s the secret to the Braves’ success. They’ll pick up a known stiff like Cano or Adeiny Hechevarria and give them a shot. If they hit – great! And if they don’t, they can say, “Well, we gave the veteran the shot and it didn’t work so now we’ll turn to the young guy and give him a real shot.”

  • MikeW

    Brian, you have such a way in painting realities. It’s too bad that one of our near major league ready players wasn’t an outfielder. Too bad Vientos couldn’t play first base.

    If I look at this bench, it is pretty horrid. I am pretty confident that we are getting washed up Pham. A valid question is, why is Ruf here?

    I really like the idea of getting the kids in there. If they play now, they have more time to get acclimated and acclimated for a penant run. The pressure is greater on them If you bring them up mid season in the midst of the division battle.

    • Brian Joura

      Thanks for the kind words!

    • T.J.

      When you say play the kids now, what kids, at what positions, in place of who, and how many games a week?

      I am all for the kids, but aside from Vientos, who really doesn’t have a defensive position, the other blue chippers have few or no ABs in AAA.

      These kids need to play daily somewhere. If Vientos earns the regular DH vs LHP and okays 70% of the games, I’m all for it. Otherwise, let him play every day and play in the field every day in AAA.

  • Metsense

    When the Mets signed Correa they obviously became a better team. There was no reason to promote the rookies. When the deal fell through the Mets pivoted and signed Pham. The signing did not make them a better team. Pham is just another version of Ruf II. Pham had .648 OPS in the second half of 2022 and Ruf had a OPS of .468 OPS. Apparently they are in the twilight of their careers . Pham will served as the RHB DH.
    The Mets then signed Nido a 2-year contract sealing the RHB part of the catching platoon.
    Alvarez could have the been the catcher vs LHP and also split some of the catching duties against RHP. Vientos could have been starting DH against LHP.
    When McNeil plays the outfield then Guillorme would play second base and that solves the fourth outfielder problem.
    Alvarez and Vientos should be more productive than Pham and Nido and thus the Mets would be a better team.

  • NYM6986

    Pham’s value is as an extra OF of which only McNeil was ready to fill in. While giving McNeil reps in the outfield does provide some innings for Guillorme it doesn’t really cover us long-term for when Marte goes down for a period of time as he does nearly every year. Fine to look at this as trying to catch a little bit of lightning in the bottle by signing a retread, whose best seasons are likely behind him, as a fill-in. It seems to me that there was a breakdown in management that did not figure out that Vientos had issues fielding and therefore could not really adequately land at third base. Baty has had basically no time at AAA and was not impressive on offense or defense in the small sample before he got hurt. We will be best served by showing he can play third and hit at Syracuse and it seems if he can than 3B will be his in 2024. Baty’s arrival sure did spur on Escobar though. We Don have one dimensional designated hitter in Vogelbach, who I believe will do a good job from the left side but you really don’t wanna put him out in the field. With the signing of Lindor a few years back, they should have already have moved Mauricio to the outfield, or at worst made him a second or third baseman. He has certainly torn up the winter leagues and ended up scoring the winning run in those playoffs.
    If you can step back and take a breath, not every player on your team needs to be an all-star. It is also not like our new catcher is a big hitter, but then anything would be better than watching McCann at the plate. It also seems like it Ruf will be gone unless he has an amazing spring training. Still think we need one more 30 plus HR bat in the lineup and think Alvarez will be called up by late May and get the bulk of the RH DH. Lots of moving pieces as always.

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