New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson poked fun at his disaster of an outfield during the offseason. The New York Daily News' John Harper tweeted the following after Alderson failed to reel in center fielder Michael Bourn:
Mets' people kept telling me Alderson wouldn't have been making jokes about OF if he wasn't sure he'd get a good one. So much for that.— John Harper (@NYDNHarper) February 12, 2013
Forget the fact that Alderson's cavalier attitude toward acquiring an above-average outfielder this winter doesn't look great in the eyes of the fanbase. Forget that the only remaining free agent worth signing had his pick of two clubs at the same salary and job security and chose to play with the Cleveland Indians over the Mets. Forget the fact that the fans have been looking to the future for the better part of the last decade.
But it's unforgettable that the New York Mets will be working with any miscellaneous three from a group consisting of Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, Brian Bixler, Andrew Brown, Collin Cowgill, Jordany Valdespin, Matt den Dekker and whoever creeps up from the minor leagues from now until September.
Alderson's Mets are devoid of a proven, major league caliber outfielder who can play on a daily basis. Bourn was Sandy's final chance to have something to hang his hat on this offseason, but he spent too much time dawdling over whether Bourn was worth a No. 11 pick.
Arguments can be made for both sides.
Bourn's main asset is speed. He's 30 years old with plenty of speed to get by on, but would the Mets be happy paying him $12 million with four more years of mileage in 2016?
But $12 million per year can easily be construed as a bargain in today's MLB. At that price, Bourn will slide in between Shane Victorino—who signed a three-year, $39 million deal with the Boston Red Sox this season—and Jacoby Ellsbury, who will make $9 million in the last year of his contract (via spotrac.com).
This year's outfield class has evaporated, and next year's isn't particularly attractive either.
Ellsbury and Curtis Granderson—who will be 33 in 2014—are the top two center fielders in the 2014 class. The market for left fielders will resemble a vast wasteland of aging, washed-up talent. The crop of right fielders is marginally more attractive, with Corey Hart (32 in 2014), Hunter Pence (31 in 2014) and Nelson Cruz (33 in 2014) leading the way, barring contract extensions or otherwise (via mlbtraderumors.com).
That means the Mets have two options to re-build the outfield: wait until at least 2016 for prospect Brandon Nimmo to develop or make a trade that can yield an above-average starting outfielder.
But the Mets need trade bait to attract potential trade partners. That's where Ike Davis comes in.
Before the tender sentiments start gushing and riots break out over the thought of trading a player who was the Mets' most productive hitter in the second half of 2012, remember that this baseball is a business—and the Mets have been operating more like a business than a baseball team over the last five seasons.
Despite falling flat to start the season, Davis proved to be the anchor in the lineup after David Wright fell off his scorching pace following the All-Star break. Davis managed just five home runs and 21 RBI in April and May, but wound up finishing with 32 homers and 90 RBI.
Davis, a 25-year-old first baseman with home run power, gap power and respectable defense, would be worthy of a productive starting outfielder. While his presence in the lineup would be missed this season, a player that could serve as a replacement is being groomed in Port St. Lucie at the Mets' spring training facility.
Wilmer Flores has been lauded for his ability to hit for power and average since he joined the Mets system as a 16-year-old neophyte from Valencia, Venezuela. The 21-year-old hit .300 with 18 homers and 75 RBI in St. Lucie (A+) and Binghamton (AA) last season—an exciting line for someone so young.
The problem is that Flores doesn't have a position. He played shortstop in rookie ball, A-ball and high A-ball from 2008 to 2011 before moving to second base and third base in 2012, spending the majority of his time at the latter.
Flores is 6'3" with a Miguel Cabrera-esque frame. Scouts within the organization presumably aren't blind to this fact and have him concentrating on second and third base in spring training. Flores also notched seven games at first base last season, an extremely small amount, but a permanent transition to first wouldn't be a bad idea if Alderson were to evaluate the league's interest in Davis.
Limited experience at first base would obviously be an obstacle for Flores, but the transition has been made before. His maximum potential at the plate won't be fully realized until he polishes his skills, but he would offer similar power (once he matures), a higher average and less strikeouts than Davis.
Eliminating the massive shortcomings in the outfield should take precedent over retaining a first baseman with a power bat. Davis may be able to hit home runs and drive runners in, but his one spot in the lineup won't compensate for the lack of production out of the last three spots in the lineup.
Six, seven and eight will be a black hole for the Mets. Factor in the pitcher's spot and Terry Collins is going to have four automatic outs in the back end of his lineup.
No team can win like that.