Sunday, November 18, 2012

Danger In The Outfield


Although the Mets bullpen was the worst in the majors this year, the top priority for Sandy Alderson this offseason (after resolving the David Wright/R.A. Dickey contract extension issues) should be to improve the outfield.  No Met outfielder has reached 70 RBI in a season since the team moved to Citi Field (Scott Hairston and Lucas Duda tied for the team lead in RBIs by outfielders with 57).  How sad is it that Angel Pagan's 69 RBI in 2010 represent the highest RBI total for a Met outfielder since Shea Stadium closed its doors for good?

Remember in 2000 when everyone said the Mets won the pennant despite having an offensively-challenged outfield?  Well, the trio of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton and Derek Bell all hit at least 15 HR and drove in a minimum of 60 runs that year.  Believe it or not, that's the last time the Mets had three outfielders reach those numbers in the same season.

Bullpens are unpredictable from year to year.  As bad as the relievers were this year, they could be better than expected next year. But a revolving outfield of Scott Hairston, Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter (and perhaps Andres Torres if he's re-signed) just can't compete with the more powerful outfields in the league.  The Mets need a significant change in the outfield if they want to improve in 2013.

The Mets' competition in the division all have at least one, if not more, solid outfielders.  The Nationals have the best outfield in the NL East, with Michael Morse, Jayson Werth and Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper.  The Braves have 20/20 man Jason Heyward (betcha didn't know Heyward stole 21 bases to go with his 27 HR), while the Phillies have a tremendous outfield prospect in Darin Ruf, whose minor league numbers (.317, 38 HR, 104 RBI) carried over into the majors last September after he was called up (.333, 3 HR, 10 RBI in 12 games with the Phillies).  Even the depleted Marlins have a top slugger in Giancarlo Stanton.  The Mets have the guy whose Wikipedia page proudly features my wife's ass.  And that's only if the Mets can re-sign him.

It's been said that pitching wins championships.  That's true, as the Giants have won two of the last three World Series with a strong pitching corps.  But they had outfielders that came through more often than not.  In 2010, it was Cody Ross, Pat Burrell and Andres Torres (with Torres producing a career year for the Giants).  This past season, the names of the outfielders may have changed, but the productivity did not, as Angel Pagan, Gregor Blanco and Hunter Pence all contributed to the Giants' latest title.

The Mets did not have great outfielders when they advanced to the World Series in 2000.  But as a unit, they were more productive than any other outfield the team has put on the field ever since.  It's not a surprise that the Mets have failed to return to the World Series since the days of Agbayani, Payton and Bell.

Assuming the Mets don't trade R.A. Dickey before the beginning of the 2013 season, they'll have a formidable staff.  With Dickey leading the way, followed by the combination of a healthy Johan Santana, the ever-improving Jonathon Niese, the w√ľnderkind Matt Harvey and the return of Dillon Gee (or even Mike Pelfrey if the Mets choose to go that route), starting pitching won't be a problem in 2013.

We know the Mets need to upgrade their bullpen.  But what the Mets truly need are dependable outfielders who are going to be out there 162 games a year.  The rest of the division already has them.  The Mets need to follow suit.  The 2000 pennant winners have been the team's most complete outfield for way too long.

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