The Mets agreed to sign free agent OF Alejandro De Aza to a one-year, $4.5 million contract on Tuesday morning, according to multiple reports, pending De Aza passing a physical.
The Mets had shown interest free agents Denard Span and Gerardo Parra throughout the off-season, but like many teams with Span, they have been concerned with his health after coming off major hip surgery in August.
According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, that along with Span’s, “sign-ability” led them to sign De Aza, who Jerry Crasnick of ESPN said the Mets were eying on Monday.
The concerns over Span are certainly justified. He is going to be 32, and the procedure he had can directly affect his greatest strength, which is his speed and mobility. He’s been an excellent player but this specific injury could compromise what would’ve made him valuable to the Mets.
That doesn’t mean the Mets shouldn’t have waited to see him workout, as Crasnick reported they would do in early January. And if healthy, he would’ve been the best of any of the available options not named Yoenis Cespedes, which also appears to be all but dead in the water.
As for Parra, Puma tweeted the Mets didn’t want to give him more than a one-year deal.
Like De Aza, 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 really want to shift positions and be in a platoon at age 28. There are certainly more natural fits for him elsewhere on the market, and if he can get a 3-4 year deal with those teams, it seems logical for him to pursue those opportunities, which it would appear he will now do considering the Mets – for whatever reason – did not want to go beyond a one-year commitment.
But even if Parra isn’t the best fit for the role, he might be a better fit than De Aza. And if he continues to grow as a hitter (remember, he’s still only 28), he could easily have become the club’s everyday outfielder while providing Gold Glove caliber defense in the process.
Parra is a guy people in the organization have really liked over the last few years because of that immaculate defense. He had a surprisingly good year at the plate in 2015 which might have inflated his value to a degree, but he wasn’t in-line for a one-year deal even if he had hit to his career averages in 2015.
If the Mets only wanted Parra on a one-year deal this winter, it can be concluded he wasn’t particularly high on their list of targets to begin with.
From the very beginning of the off-season, the front office’s goal has been to create a deep, versatile, and dynamic offense which can help support their treasure chest of starting pitching. Production can certainly be defined in many different ways, and the Mets chose the route of trying to reduce their strikeout totals, get on-base more, and lengthen their lineup while deepening their bench to create a roster with 13-14 players who can start effectively on any given day.
The Mets are probably comparable to slightly upgraded on their middle infield with the additions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, if for no other reason that it turns a right-handed bat capable of 15-20 home runs into a super-utility role in Wilmer Flores, and can increase the production at second base in a platoon with Walker. Walker can be considered comparable to slightly better defensively than Daniel Murphy by virtue of the fact he is better at turning double plays and at least catches what he can get to. Cabrera is not a good defensive player, but he’s probably no worse than Flores or Tejada at shortstop and should at least be league-average offensively with a little bit of pop.
And certainly, there is no question the deal to acquire Walker was savvy in that it cut dead and expensive weight from the roster and filled a need at the same time at zero net cost.
But there is no question the Mets have cut a corner in center field with De Aza, if this is in fact their solution.
Yes, De Aza brings the element of speed to the top of the order, and his speed will be in play 70-80 percent of the time since they will face right-handed pitching on most nights. And he is still seemingly productive against right-handed pitching, which is something they were seeking. But De Aza strikes out a lot, doesn’t get on-base very much, and was in large measure a singles hitter in 2014 and 2015.
De Aza is not really a centerfielder at this point in his career, either. And who knows what kind of toll the position will take on him in his age-32 season.
Combining that with Cabrera’s below-average defense, and the Mets probably haven’t addressed their problems on defense overall, something which is vital to the success of their anchor, the pitching staff.
Just ask the Royals about that, as a clear-cut difference between the Mets and Royals in the World Series – along with the bullpen – was the quality of their defense.
Now, the Mets didn’t need to acquire a superstar at every open roster spot. Again, they needed to acquire solid stability and people who can be counted on to row their part of the boat.
Have the Mets done that to-date? Have they given their championship-caliber (and still very inexpensive, for now) starting rotation enough support to give them four runs per game, and prevent unnecessary runs from scoring?
While their roster may be deeper than it was on Opening Day in 2015 and they have in fact been very active this winter, have they improved their quality with the quantity?
It’s hard to see how they are better today than they were on November 1.
And in order to get back to and win the World Series, their roster needs to be better.