The Mets Need a Corner Outfielder, But Who? Trade Edition

By: Brian Mangan

Most of America’s eyes have turned toward the MLB Postseason, but for Mets fans, the Hot Stove season has already begun. As was been pointed out on Metsblog earlier this week (Berkon, Oct. 2), it is of the utmost importance this offseason that the Mets acquire a competent left fielder (or right fielder, if Curtis Granderson moves to left).

But who should they acquire? As always, it #DependsOnTheDeal, but who is out there that would present an upgrade on the Mets in-house options?

According to Baseball-Reference, there were only 39 corner outfielders in MLB who posted a positive WAR (wins above replacement) in 2014 with a 300 plate appearance minimum. Even if you were to lower that threshold to only 150 plate appearances, there would still only be 65 such players who played at least 50% of their games at a corner outfield position. These players are in shorter supply than you might think. Despite such a limited supply, the Mets actually had four such players in 2014: Curtis Granderson (1.3 WAR), Eric Young (0.9), Matt den Dekker (0.9) and Chris Young (0.8, including with the Yankees). Kirk Nieuwenhuis also finished in the black, but had only 130 plate appearances.

If you’re looking for an impact player, and then you’re looking for a guy who posted, say 2 WAR or more last season. That limits our sample (even our larger sample) to 31 players. After removing superstars who won’t be moved (like Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Upton and Yasiel Puig) there are only a few potential trade targets remaining. Here’s a list of some realistic trade candidates who I would like to see the Mets kick the tires on. Most of these players are young, but not stars, and are on teams that are well-set in the outfield:

1. Seth Smith, SDP. – He won’t come cheap, but Seth Smith is exactly the type of player the Mets should be acquiring and whom the Padres should be dealing. Smith posted 3.3 WAR this year thanks to a .266/.367/.440 batting line accumulated while playing his home games in specious PetCo Park. Smith has an extremely team-friendly contract, earning only $13M total over the next two seasons with a team option for 2017. Smith will be hard to acquire, given that he signed his extension mid-summer this season and is one of the few Major League hitters on the Padres. However, the Padres are years away from contention, finishing 77-85 this year with little help on the way, and really have no use for a player like Smith who is already 31.

The Padres rotation looks better than it is thanks to the spacious confines of PetCo (for instance, Odrisamer Despaigne’s 3.36 ERA was only good for an ERA+ of 100 given park factors) and they could use an upgrade on what they’ve been putting out there with Ian Kennedy (92 ERA+) and Eric Stults (78 ERA+). On the Mets side, Smith’s age means he’s not a long term part, but he is much younger than Michael Cuddyer and would be an excellent two year placeholder for the Michael Confortos and Brandon Nimmos of the world to develop. Would Jon Niese and Jenrry Mejia be enough to pry away Smith?

2. Khris Davis, MIL. – Davis is just off a season where he batted .244/.299/.457 with 22 home runs. Davis struggles mightily with his on-base percentage, but he is decent on defense, has excellent power, and will only be 27 years old at the start of the next season. Even more encouragingly, he cut down his strikeouts in the second half of the season, whiffing only 36 times compared to 86 in the first half. Might the Brewers be open to moving him or Gerardo Parra given their epic collapse and the presence of both Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun in their outfield? Jon Niese would look good in the Brewers rotation.

3. Lorenzo Cain, KCR. – If you didn’t know his name before the playoffs, you certainly know it now.  Cain is the Royals centerfielder and is a player I’ve liked for a while. He batted .301/.339/.412 this year in what is a career year at the age of 28. The Royals have Carlos Peguero, who hit 30 home runs for Triple-A Omaha, along with Alex Gordon, Nori Aoki, and Jarrod Dyson in their outfield, while on the pitching side they have continued to give starts to guys like Jeremy Guthrie. Dillon Gee may be a good fit here. [Ed. I began this article before the playoffs, thinking Lorenzo Cain was a nice little secret.  Well, not anymore.  Kansas City will be hard pressed to part with him now, it seems.]

4. Corey Dickerson/Charlie Blackmon, COL. – This blog has been the home to Rockies trade rumors all year, but we have never been connected to the two players that I actually wanted, young Colorado outfielders Dickerson and Blackmon. I for one have no interest in Carlos Gonzalez, who is expensive and injury prone, but in Dickerson and Blackmon the Rockies have two relatively young and very cheap outfielders fighting for playing time.

Dickerson, 25, batted a whopping .312/.364/.567 this year with 24 home runs, while playing primarily left field. Given his excellent year, it may be too late to trade for him. His neighbor in the outfield, Blackmon, 27, hit .288/.335/.440 with 19 home runs of his own. Blackmon posted a respectable 2.0 WAR, while Dickerson was quietly a star in the National League, totaling 3.7 WAR.

The Rockies have a serious glut in the outfield between Dickerson, Blackmon, Gonzalez, Drew Stubbs, Brandon Barnes and Cuddyer, who they have said they wanted to bring back for 2015 (Denver Post, Sept. 7). Although I would be loath to part with a potential star like Zack Wheeler, as the saying goes, you have got to break some eggs to make an omelet, and the Mets should consider it for a player of Dickerson’s caliber (and price).

It #DependsOnTheDeal, but there are options out there, including plenty that I did not mention (Would the Phillies lend Marlon Byrd back to the Mets? Will Travis Snider get pushed out of a starting job in Pittsburgh by Gregory Planco?). The Mets are unlikely to be willing or able to pry away a star like Stanton or Bautista, but everyday regulars like Smith, Blackmon and Davis can be acqiured for the right price and will lend some stability to the Mets’ lineup.

These names aren’t sexy, but they will do the job.  I am one of the few in the camp that believe that the Mets don’t need to make a huge upgrade in order to be competitive in 2015.  A nice cheap acquisition of a regular corner outfield starter can lend stability to the lineup without sacrificing from a strength (our pitching) or our future.

Who did I miss?  Who should I take a closer look at?  Sound off below.

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Brian Mangan is an attorney who lives in New York City and is a co-founder of the Read Zone.  Follow his Mets-related thoughts on Twitter: @brianpmangan

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