5 free agent outfielders for the Mets to consider this winter
–Originally posted November 7, 2015–
The Mets have several needs to fill ahead of the 2016 season, and Sandy Alderson has already said he wants to address such needs and not depend so heavily on their starting pitching for a chunk of the season, as was the case in 2015.
Alderson has said the offense needs to be re-shaped, the bullpen needs work, and in recapping the World Series, he said their defense was lackluster as well.
In addition, the Mets need to improve their speed team-wide.
Assuming both Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy depart, the Mets will have two glaring vacancies at the top of their depth chart: one in the outfield and one on the infield.
The Mets do have Juan Lagares, a Gold Glove caliber center fielder who proved capable of hitting left-handed pitching in 2015 – he posted a .771 OPS in 132 plate appearances against southpaws this past season.
But he struggled mightily against the right side, posting just a .599 OPS in 333 plate appearances against right-handed pitching in 2015.
So the Mets need to decide if Lagares should be in a platoon or simply convert him into a fourth outfielder. He’s under contract for $2.5 million in 2016 as part of a $22.5 million extension he signed last March, a worthy consideration in the decision-making process.
The question is, after surrendering their first-round pick in the 2015 draft for signing Michael Cuddyer last winter, would the Mets be willing to relinquish a first-round pick in the 2016 draft to sign a free agent who received a qualifying offer? For an organization which prides itself on building from within, it might not be prudent for them to lose a second consecutive opportunity in the first round of the amateur draft.
The Mets will get a pick in the compensation portion of the 2016 draft if Murphy departs, thanks to making him a $15.8 million qualifying offer. They will not receive a compensation pick for Cespedes if he leaves, however, as he cannot be made a qualifying offer due to his mid-season acquisition.
Having said that, there are plenty of options for the Mets to consider which would help them improve their speed, defense, reduce the number of strikeouts, and maintain their power.
Here’s a look at several free agent outfielders the Mets might consider signing this winter…
Heyward got a qualifying offer, as expected, which makes him harder for the Mets to consider. Heyward is an underrated player, although he never quite lived up to the hype and expectations he set when he had his tremendous rookie campaign with the Braves in 2010. He’s still young and has been a consistent six-win player for the last four years outside of 2013, when his jaw was broken on a hit-by-pitch from Jon Niese that August.
The Mets need a centerfielder, and Heyward is not a natural there. He has played there and the Mets would not be losing much, if anything, with him out there instead of Lagares, as he’s a splendid defensive player. But assuming there’s mutual interest, Heyward would have to decide if he’d be willing to switch positions for the next two years, at least.
He was not a liability against either left-handed or right-handed pitching in 2015, but he has only has hit .230 against left-handed pitching in his career. Still, he’s a solid hitter with speed and decent pop who gets on-base and has cut down on his strikeouts in recent years as well, something the Mets need to consider for their swing-and-miss offense.
He has never fared particularly well at Citi Field, hitting .209/.318/.378 with six home runs and 17 RBI in 41 games, but those numbers also came at a time when the ballpark was less neutral, and more favored towards pitchers.
The main problem is, presumably, Heyward is still 26, and he will probably command a six or seven-year contract this winter. That alone makes it unlikely the Mets will pursue him, regardless of the money he asks for.
Parra was traded mid-year, and so like Cespedes, he is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer from the Orioles. The Mets like him – recall they were interested in acquiring Parra ahead of the trade deadline.
He is a tremendous defensive player and had a breakout year in 2015 at the plate, setting a career high with 14 home runs, a .517 slugging percentage, OPS+ of 139 and 247 total bases. Parra is also a phenomenal defensive player.
Parra struggled at the plate after being traded from the Brewers to the Orioles, but again he otherwise had a fabulous year at the plate. But if the Mets were to acquire him, it’s hard to imagine he could replicate his production from this past season in the pitcher-friendly National League East, although defense never slumps and again, he is a fantastic outfielder.
Like Heyward, Parra is not a natural fit in centerfield, having played the bulk of his career in both corner outfield spots. It’s also not clear he would want to shift positions and be in a platoon at age 28. He will likely seek a 3-4 year deal, and there are certainly more natural fits for him elsewhere on the market.
But Parra is not tied to draft compensation for the Mets or any other interested team who might want to sign him.
Like Heyward, Upton received a qualifying offer from the Padres by Friday’s deadline.
Padres GM AJ Preller shopped Upton last winter, and Sandy Alderson has said openly he was close to acquiring Upton ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. But with the need to act and San Diego hesitating to move Upton as the deadline approached, Alderson turned his attention to Yoenis Cespedes, and the rest was history.
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise too, as acquiring Upton would likely have led to Michael Conforto spending the rest of the year at Triple-A Las Vegas.
Upton is probably not the best fit for the Mets right now anyway. The Mets really need a centerfielder, and Upton just isn’t a centerfielder. Rather, he’s a corner outfielder who’s average at best, and he’s a right-handed bat as well. The Mets really need a left-handed centerfielder or simply an all-around upgrade in centerfield. Upton simply doesn’t fit any of their criteria.
He’s a strange player anyway. Yes, he’s young, obviously very talented and his final line always seems to looks good. But in the case of 2015, he was problematic against left-handed pitching (.191/.258/.300), and surprisingly, he hit better at Petco Park than on the road. He’s a very streaky player – at times there’s no getting Upton out, others he can’t get out of his own way. He’s still young, so he’s likely going to get a long deal somewhere. But that probably won’t happen with the Mets, especially since he’s just not a fit for them right now.
Besides, they can always re-sign Cespedes anyway, who is a known quantity in New York and simply the better all-around player. And, he won’t cost them a pick in the 2016 draft.
Rasmus accepted his qualifying offer from the Astros – he is off the free agent market…
Rasmus had a badly-needed bounce back year for the Astros in 2015, and was a big reason for their ascent to the top of the American League West as well. He also had a tremendous postseason despite the Astros being stymied by the Royals.
He’s an excellent power hitter – Rasmus has produced at least 20 home runs in three of his last four seasons and in four of his seven big league seasons. He’s a left-handed bat and plays centerfield with a .785 OPS lifetime against right-handed pitching, three major boxes for the Mets to check heading into the 2016 season.
The interesting part about Rasmus’ 2015 season was he actually handled left-handed pitching significantly better than he did right-handed pitching in a smaller sample. He hit .233/.294/.476 with 149 total bases in 124 games against the right side, .252/.364/.471 with 56 total bases in 71 games against the left side.
He strikes out a lot – he set a career-high with 154 strikeouts in 2015. That would normally be fine, but he also doesn’t walk very much, and has a .313 career on-base percentage to show for that major split. He also doesn’t have much speed and he’s basically a league-average outfielder, although he can play all three positions if needed.
He always seems to produce a better than average park-adjusted OPS, but nothing particularly noteworthy. Having said that, it’s not really clear how his power might play at Citi Field and the other big ballparks in the division.
Rasmus received a qualifying offer from the Astros on Friday. So that might water down any interest the Mets might have in the 29-year-old outfielder, given he is far from a complete solution for them and could in fact exacerbate some of their problems with their current swing-and-miss offense.
Span missed a lot of time in 2015 due to a bad back. And his absence cost the Nationals dearly too – they were 36-25 when he played, 47-54 when he did not play.
He underwent season-ending hip surgery in late August, but that could mean Span might sign an under-market deal, and try to rebuild some of his value for another run through free agency.
A left-handed hitter, Span is a catalyst for the top of the lineup. He doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but he makes contact, has first-to-third speed, and when he’s healthy, can be counted on for 200-plus total bases thanks to his ability to take advantage of big ballparks with his triples speed.
Acquiring Span would go a long way towards improving the team’s on-base percentage, and it would allow Curtis Granderson to be moved towards the middle of the lineup as well.
Certainly, someone like Span doesn’t account for the power lost from Cespedes’, but he provides a different kind of production with his speed, ability to create run scoring opportunities with his speed and ability to make contact. That can only help the swing-and-miss bats in David Wright and Lucas Duda see more strikes and get more fastballs to hit.
While it was a small sample, Span mashed right-handed pitching in 2015 – he hit .335/.393/.486 with 90 total bases in 56 games. He was mostly ineffective against left-handed pitching, however, posting a .197/.279/.262 line with 16 total bases against southpaws. But neither are in-line with his career marks, as he’s historically been an effective hitter against left-handers, posting a .274/.351/.365 line and a more modest but still impressive .293/.353/.407 mark against right-handers.
He’s a little older now, and his back and hip issues could create some red flags for teams like the Mets who need his type of presence at the top of the lineup. His defense has also regressed in the last two years, and it’s unclear if that will improve as he enters his age-32 season in 2016, especially after hip labrum surgery.
But if he’s healthy, Span is a proven commodity for the top of any lineup, and his historical marks against both right-handers and left-handers could prove to be a tremendous insurance policy for Juan Lagares who, in fairness, the jury is still out on.
Fowler is a similar player to Span, although he’s a couple of years younger, hits for more power and strikes out a little more. But like Span, he has triples speed and could instantly be installed at the top of the Mets lineup, moving Granderson down in the lineup to make for a more ideal flow 1-8.
A switch hitter, Fowler is a base stealing threat, although his success rate has never been particularly good, and creating outs on the bases isn’t exactly what this front office likes in it’s players. But Citi Field and the other big ballparks in the division could play right into Fowler’s strength – his speed – and he could see an uptick in his extra-base production as a result if he were to join the Mets.
From a defensive perspective, Fowler could best be described as average to slightly below average. Those weaknesses could be further exposed in a bigger ballpark than that of Wrigley Field and Minute Maid Park, the two places he’s called home in recent years. And given the Mets need to improve their team-wide defense, having a below average defender up the middle out there on a regular basis does not help in the run prevention department.
There are some problems with Fowler, however. Again, he strikes out a lot, as he set a career high with 154 strikeouts with the Cubs in 2015, 147 of which came in the leadoff spot. And like Lagares, Fowler did not hit right-handed pitching well at all this past season, although he did post a .726 OPS thanks to his 13 home runs against righties. But he was far more effective against left-handers, posting a .326/.399/.467 line in 68 games against southpaws.
They already have a productive bat against left-handers in Lagares.
However, his struggles against right-handed pitching this past season were not indicative of his career marks – he has a .761 lifetime OPS against the right side in his career. So, it could simply be viewed as an off-year by that measure for Fowler, and he can be counted on for more consistency going forward.
He got a qualifying offer, which complicates the case for the Mets to sign Fowler, especially since a lot his game goes against what the Mets are trying to improve as they endeavor to win the World Series in 2016.