The weak link, by far, for the New York Mets' offense in 2012 was their outfield. The outfield was woeful, as the Mets got little power production from the group and not much in the batting average department either. The team's decision to buy out outfielder Jason Bay a week ago signals a shakeup may be coming for the unit, but without a lot of money in the budget it remains to be seen how things will shake out. The Mets 101 staff has identified several critical issues for the outfield and offers our take on how to address them.
Q: With Jason Bay gone, who is the top dog in the outfield?
Steve Popoloski: I don't see anybody as the top dog at the moment. The Mets outfield is a wide open competition for the kids on hand as well as any veteran free agent acquisitions. You have to figure that Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda, Jordany Valdespin, and Mike Baxter will all be in the mix for playing time, so one of them definitely needs to step up. If the Mets add a veteran, he will become the leader by default. It remains unlikely that the Mets will pursue a big name free agent, like B.J. Upton or Josh Hamilton, and are far more likely to be shopping in the low cost bin (populated by names like Nate McLouth, Cody Ross, and Ryan Ludwick). There's always the possibility that Scott Hairston re-ups as well and sees another 120+ games in the outfield. Spring training should be fun and I might be the only one, but I am all aboard the Nyjer Morgan bandwagon. Bringing Tony Gumbo to Flushing would be a show worth watching!
Q: Can Kirk Nieuwenhuis be the everyday center fielder?
Joe Melendez: There are two things to consider with this question. The first part is a long term question of whether or not Captain Kirk can be the center fielder of the future. The second involves whether or not Nieuwenhuis can stay healthy.
Prior to July, Nieuwenhuis was actually being mentioned as a Rookie of the Year candidate. Opposing pitchers, however, figured out Nieuwenhuis and he went into an absolute tailspin. Nieuwenhuis continued to field with flair, but his bat vanished and he got banished to Buffalo to rebuild his confidence. Nieuwenhuis was on pace to return at the end of the year, but a foot injury ended his season at Buffalo. Considering that Jason Bay is gone and Andres Torres will likely follow him out the door, there should be plenty of opportunities for playing time in the outfield. Nieuwenhuis handled himself well in center early in 2012 and will be given the first crack to fill Torres' shoes. 2013 will be a big year for Nieuwenhuis as the Mets will likely let him work through his troubles at the big league level, and if he can they will have a long term answer for center field.
Injuries remain a concern for Captain Kirk. Nieuwenhuis' foot injury wasn't his first major injury as he was sidelined for much of 2011 with a shoulder injury. Nieuwenhuis' medical report isn't too promising, but if he can shake off the injuries and continue his development Captain Kirk will be a big part of the Mets' future plans.
Q: Is Lucas Duda's 2011 or 2012 performance more realistic for him, and if it is the latter, is Duda a viable starter?
Kyle Brosnan: I would say somewhere in the middle. I do think that Duda's poor fielding performance in the outfield really hurt him at the plate this year. With Bay gone, the Mets might be able to hide him better in left field but when push comes to shove, I don't think that Lucas Duda is an outfielder. He is much more comfortable at first base. If I were the Mets I would certainly listen to offers for Ike Davis with the hopes of picking up a big outfield piece in return. That way, Duda can slide into first base and continue his trajectory as a developing power hitter in the major leagues. If Davis stays (I don't think he will be moved) you would have to think that Duda is the opening day left fielder at this point. There is literally no one to play the outfield positions right now and Sandy Alderson has a lot of work to do.
Q: Will Scott Hairston be Back?
Mike Phillips: A few weeks ago the odds of Scott Hairston spending a third year in Flushing appeared to be slim to none. Jason Bay's departure has certainly changed things, and I think the odds of a return for Hairston are much closer to 50/50 now. The Mets are in definite need of veteran power hitting outfielders on the cheap, and Hairston certainly fits the bill. Hairston's return could allow him to form an effective lefty/righty platoon with Lucas Duda in left field and provide protection in case one of the young guns doesn't pan out. Hairston will never be mistaken for an All Star, but he is a solid veteran presence in an outfield that needs one. Hairston also provides some solid leadership in the clubhouse, which is a key element for a developing ball club.
Q: Who, if anyone, will the Mets target from outside the organization to improve their outfield?
Kyle: I don't think the Mets target anyone big via free agency. The finances are just not there. I would like to see the Mets go after someone like Nick Swisher, but I think he will go out and get anywhere between $75-100 million dollar contract from someone. Obviously, that would be out of the Mets' price range. If they end up trading R.A. Dickey, they have to receive an outfield piece (major leaguer or top prospect) in return for the deal to be worth while.
Mike: Would B.J. Upton be a great fit for the Mets? Absolutely. There is also no chance he or anyone of his caliber signs with the Mets because their annual demands would fill the team's whole offseason budget. I expect the Mets to continue shopping in the "fruits and nuts" section of the market, as Scott Boras so ably puts it. Re-signing Scott Hairston is a strong possibility, but I expect reports to start surfacing linking the Mets to lower tier outfielders who can be had on one year deals. Possible targets include Grady Sizemore, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and old friend Xavier Nady.
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