Mets are focused on Ben Zobrist, but have considered Dexter Fowler for the outfield
The Mets are searching for a left-handed complement to Juan Lagares in centerfield, and have been linked to Denard Span as a possible fit, according to multiple reports.
But the Mets are not limiting their search to one player, as Buster Olney of ESPN says the Mets are looking at Dexter Fowler as a possibility to fill that need as well.
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, and he’s not an ideal fit by any means.
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.
But right now, the Mets continue to focus their attention on Ben Zobrist, according to Olney, who is the Mets number-one target in free agency, according to Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports.
The problem is, the demand for Zobrist continues to escalate ahead of the Winter Meetings next week, as Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports says Zobrist can already command a four-year deal which could go north of $60 million, and Rosenthal says a team guaranteeing the fourth year could be the deciding factor for him.
Meanwhile, the Mets don’t seem inclined to give Zobrist a four-year deal, according to multiple reports, although it’s worth mentioning the Mets had similar sentiments in their negotiations with Curtis Granderson two winters ago. Originally, the Mets only wanted to offer three guaranteed years, but Sandy Alderson ultimately relented and guaranteed that fourth year.
Currently, the Mets, Nationals, Dodgers and Giants all appear to be in the hunt for Zobrist, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN, with the Royals appearing to be priced out, the Braves and Angels on the fringes, and the Cubs and Cardinals not being able to guarantee as many at-bats for the super-utility free agent.
Zobrist is visiting with teams on the east coast now, and on the west coast later this week, and a decision is expected during the winter meetings, Crasnick tweets.
All things being equal, Zobrist would be an upgrade to Daniel Murphy and provide stability up the middle.
There’s no question Zobrist checks most of the boxes the Mets seek to fill this winter. He’s a versatile player, capable of playing at least three positions on the infield as well as both corner outfield spots. He is a contact-oriented hitter, and showed during the World Series against the Mets he is one of the better fastball hitters in the game, even as he concluded his age-34 season. He would help transform the top of their lineup from swing-and-miss to more contact with an ability to get on-base, and be another solid, veteran leader for the clubhouse as they endeavor to win their first World Championship since 1986.
But there’s the issue of his age, and the risk associated with guaranteeing four years to a player entering his age-35 season, which is presumably why the Mets are reluctant to give Zobrist a four-year deal. But if the Mets intend to win right now, it may be a risk the Mets have to take with Zobrist, and deal with the consequences of the long side of such a contract.
He is not tied to draft compensation, as he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer after being dealt to the Royals by the A’s mid-year.
Zobrist hit .276/.359/.450 with 13 home runs and 56 RBI in 126 games with the A’s and Royals in 2015. He underwent April knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus.