Centerfield Options

As we all know, Carlos Beltran has underwent knee surgery and is expected to be out for 12 weeks. No one is sure if “12 weeks” refers to the time before he can walk, run, or play ball. No one has made clear that it is “at least 12 weeks” or “a minimum of 12 weeks”. The recent history of communications from the Mets in regard to player injuries, though, tells us that the “12 weeks” means little or nothing.

That said, we’ll pretend that Carlos Beltran will NOT be in uniform, in centerfield, in April, and possibly not until May (which, in Metspeak, means, he most likely will be back in the lineup sometime in August).

Who will play centerfield for the Mets while we wait for Beltran’s return? Here are some of the possibilities.

Free Agents

Rick Ankiel
The best free-agent centerfielder still available on the open market. He has no desire to play in NYC, and is coming off an injury-riddled season in which he hit .231.

Alfredo Amezaga
The second-best free-agent centerfielder still available. Hits from both sides of the plate, has good speed, and can play every position on the diamond except catcher. He hit .217 last year and turned 32 a few days ago. In his prime years (27-29) he was a semi-regular super utlityman who hit in the .260s with no power.

Endy Chavez
Endy is coming off major knee surgery that ended his 2009 season. He turns 32 in a few weeks. His age and his surgery likely will affect his once excellent range. Neither issue should affect the fact he has no power, no plate discipline, and is a streak hitter.

Johnny Damon
There was a time that Damon was adequate in centerfield. That time has long past. Comically enough, there have been some pundits who suggest signing Damon for left field and shifting Jason Bay to center — many of the same pundits who previously insisted that Jason Bay’s defensive skills in left field would nullify his offensive production and ultimately doom the Mets.

Cory Sullivan / Jeremy Reed
Either of these choices would provide stellar defense, solid fundamentals, hustle, and good baserunning but only limited offensive production. The cost would be very affordable — likely under $1M.

Reed Johnson
This name is being bandied about more than Sullivan/Reed and I don’t understand why — Reed Johnson is essentially the righthanded, more expensive version of those two. I guess it’s a matter of people preferring change for the sake of change.

Rocco Baldelli
Is he healthy? Can he play every day? Does he want to play in NYC? If the answer is “yes” to all three it’s a no-brainer. But we don’t know the answers.

Randy Winn
Winn has been coveted by the Mets for several years, as his name comes up in rumors every July. He hasn’t been an everyday centerfielder since 2004 because his range is limited. He might be an OK stopgap, providing solid if unspectacular all-around performance. Certainly he is a well-rounded, fundamentally sound ballplayer with extensive experience and has a good rep off the field / in the clubhouse.

Jerry Hairston, Jr.
This name has been suggested by various sources recently. Why, I have no idea. Hairston is essentially an older, more versatile, but otherwise less-talented version of Reed Johnson. His main value is the ability to stand in several different positions on the diamond, but, at none is he particularly stellar — centerfield included. In any case, it appears he’s about to sign with the Padres.

Eric Byrnes

The price tag should be cheap, and if he’s healthy, he might be an OK option — if he’ll sign an MLB-minimum contract. The Crashtest Dummy last played CF regularly in 2006, and no one knows for sure if he’s healthy enough to walk out to center, much less play it.

Gerald “Ice” Williams
I’m kidding.

Trade Candidates

Gary Matthews, Jr.
The Angels are dying to rid themselves of Matthews and his contract — and will probably pay some or all of his salary to make him go away. He hasn’t performed anywhere close to his “enhanced” career year with the Rangers in 2006, and is now 35 years old.

Ryan Spilborghs

The rumor mill was rife with Spilborghs’ name earlier in the winter, and he remains an extra outfielder on the Rockies’ depth chart. The Beaneheads love him for his OBP, and he can cover centerfield adequately enough to be a worthwhile stopgap. But at what cost, and is he any better than Angel Pagan?

In-house Possibilities

Angel Pagan
The most likely and most sensible solution is Angel Pagan. He has the physical (if not mental) skills to handle center field more than adequately, and showed in 2009 that he can be an offensive force in spurts.

Fernando Martinez

Do we really want to watch him be overmatched in MLB when he should be further developing his skills, confidence, and ability to stay on the field in the minors?

Jason Bay / Jeff Francoeur
Even if either of these players was capable of handling centerfield for more than a week, it would still create a hole in one of the corners. Not plausible.


I think we know the way the Mets will go — they’ll plug in Angel Pagan and hope for the best. And looking at the alternatives, it’s not a bad plan. Though, I’d prefer they also back him up with a solid, cheap defender such as Jeremy Reed or Cory Sullivan, AND have a “Plan B” in place — Randy Winn would appear to be the most logical choice in terms of availability and cost. Winn can fill in as a late-inning defender in center and left, and be a veteran bat off the bench — he can just as easily play every day, and/or split time in a platoon situation. Maybe if Ankiel were more interested in playing in New York I’d think differently, but that plus his history suggests he isn’t “built” to play in a big market.

What do you think?

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Dominick January 18, 2010 at 10:58 am
    Amezega is a no brainer to me because of versatility, hustle and attitude. Will cost no more than a million but maybe a lot less. He can end the embarrassing carousel of beer league back up outfielders the mets put on their roster each year.
    That being said I am surprised his production has slipped so fast. ala Dominic Brown.
  2. DKA January 18, 2010 at 12:21 pm
    From all reports that I have read, Randy Winn can no longer play a serviceable CF. If that is indeed true, I think you have to look elsewhere such as Reed Johnson, Sullivan and Jeremy Reed. Pagan should be your starting CF’er but we need to add a versatile backup that can legitimately play a quality defensive CF. Given their histories, Pagan and FMart have too high a likelihood of hitting the DL and we need to have some in-house options. Citifield is too cavernous in Center, particularly between Bay and Francouer, not to have yourself covered with an additional, quality defensive CF in house. Who are the starting OF’ers for Buffalo going to be this year, other than F-Mart? Anyone that can play center?
  3. grandillusion January 18, 2010 at 5:56 pm
    call the brewers and see what it would take to get carlos gomez back …might not be possible,,but check on it anyway
  4. isuzudude January 18, 2010 at 7:42 pm
    Dominick – Amezaga is anything but a no brainer because he’s recovering from microfracture surgery himself from this past July, so he’s no bet to be anything but a shell of his former self in 2010, and his former self wasn’t anything special to begin with. The Mets can definitely do better than him.

    DKA – I’m not a big fan of Randy Winn, either. People will look at some of his recent seasons and think he can compete with Pagan for the CF job, but he’s now a 36 year old whose defense is declining and offense is fading as well. However, he’s still more than likely to command a $3-4mil contract, which is a bit pricy considering all the Mets really need is a solid defensive 4th OF. If Winn can be had for $1 or $2 million, he’s worth a look, but anything else is too much.

    Reed Johnson intrigues me a lot, though I’m not totally sold. I know he made over $3-mil last year and that price is way too high for his services, but coming off an injury-plagued, subpar season, Johnson’s price should be much less this offseason. I think of him as a gritty, sacrifice the body, hustling type of player who may not wow you with his stats, but has the qualities of a winner. I remember 2 years ago when he was non tendered by Toronto and we were hot for him then but he wound up going to the Cubs and being a great energizing force for them. I recall him playing good defense, though his stats don’t reflect that story. Maybe there are better options out there, but if the Mets nab him, I wouldn’t be against it.

    As for the OFs in Buffalo, there is quite the jumble of names but no one who stands out from the pack. Aside from FMart, there figures to be Jesus Feliciano, Jolbert Cabrera, and potentially Nick Evans and Chris Carter, with Feliciano the only guy with solid CF experience. Thus the need for additional CF depth on the big league team.

  5. QueensQrew January 18, 2010 at 8:06 pm
    A week ago I would have said Ryan Church, but forget that.

    How about David Wright in center with Daniel Murphy playing third base?

  6. joejanish January 18, 2010 at 10:03 pm
    QueensCrew – That’s pretty “out of the box”, and I’m not sure it makes sense, considering that Murphy was AWFUL as a third baseman in the minors and Wright has never played the OF. Still, have to give you credit for creativity. If Murphy was a stellar third baseman — maybe in Shawn Bowman’s league — it would be a plausible consideration.

    isuzudude – curious, why the RH-hitting Reed Johnson and not the LH-hitting and cheaper Jeremy Reed or Cory Sullivan, both of whom are essentially the same as Johnson (great defense, gritty, hustling, mediocre offensively, etc.) ?

  7. isuzudude January 19, 2010 at 10:05 am
    Joe: You’ve already surfaced my reasoning for prefering Johnson over Reed/Sullivan, and that is that I already know what Reed/Sullivan bring to the table, and with Johnson being something of an unknown, I’m wondering if maybe he’d bring something more. Hey, if the Mets can sign Johnson AND Reed/Sullivan, I’d be all for it. But, from my perspective, I’d be more willing to give Johnson the major league deal, while Reed/Sullivan would have to settle for a minor league contract. Reed/Sullivan would be cheaper, like you state, but I’m only looking to add Johnson if he’s no more expensive than approx $1.25-mil, so the money saved by avoiding Johnson wouldn’t deter me.
  8. IveMetFan January 19, 2010 at 12:45 pm
    Who say’s Murphy was awful at third base in the minors? From what I heard, Murphy is a natural third baseman and if the way he plays first base with no experience indicates he would be an awesome defensive third baseman. I would propose for 2011 moving Wright to second base then Murphy to third while having Ike Davis at first. David Wright is a team player and he has already stated publicly he would agree to a move to second if it means helping the team. He would be an above average hitting second baseman and he is a hard worker im sure he can be an adequate second baseman. No worse than Chase Utley.

    By 2011 Josh Thole should be ready as well so we could have a potential ALL IN HOUSE FARM SYSTEM infield!!! All potential All Stars!!! Now this is a team I would be excited about. With an average age of about 25-26 years. Our oldest player would be Beltran at 33 years old.


    Pitching Staff
    Perez or Niese

  9. Walnutz15 January 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm
    I don’t care what league you’re playing in….49 errors in 196 games at the Minor League hot-corner is the shakiest foundation I’d ever look to build-upon for a Major League 3rd baseman.

    ……but that’s just me.

    Murphy was treated very kindly last season, in most-everyone’s assessment of his defensive skills at 1st base.

    In my most honest of opinions, he’d be a disaster with Major League hitters scorching line drives at him over there.

  10. joejanish January 19, 2010 at 2:13 pm
    IveMetsFan – every scout who watched Murphy agreed he has poor hands, poor footwork, and below-average arm strength for a 3B. And as Walnutz pointed out, he was error-prone.

    An all in-house infield would be nice, but only if it makes the team win. Dan Murphy and Josh Thole future all-stars? I hope so, but that’s overly optimistic. Pass the punch, please, I’m thirsty for some optimism.

    ‘dude – I guess you don’t share my evaluations on Sullivan and Reed, both of whom I believe are excellent defenders with a number of additional tools. Their only negative is lack of power, and Reed Johnson is no slugger, either. Sometimes the devil you know is better than the one you don’t.

    Also I liked Reed as a pinch-hitter, and have no idea what Johnson can do in that role.

  11. CatchDog January 19, 2010 at 5:07 pm
    Good punch! That said, if the kids on the farm take the necessary steps, we just might see a homegrown infield in another season or two.

    How cool would Davis, Havens or Tejada, Reyes, Wright and Thole be? Heck, we could even add FMart, Nieuwenhuis and Cesar Puello into the outfield too!!

    Kiva nother sip?

  12. isuzudude January 19, 2010 at 7:25 pm
    I’m jumping on the pile at this point, but indeed, IveMetFan, Dan Murphy was NOT a good defensive 3B in the minors. Read his scouting reports or look up his minor league numbers for confirmation. Thus, moving Murphy to a position he’s never excelled at, while moving Wright off of the position he’s already won a gold glove at to a brand new position he’s never played before, would NOT be a good idea.

    Also, the goal of a major league team is not to have an all in-house developed team, but to have high-talent players in as many positions as possible, and get them to unite on one common interest (i.e. winning the division). While it would be keen to see a Wright/Reyes/Murphy/Davis infield, you shouldn’t necesarily be forcing square pegs into round holes just to get there.

    Be careful labeling every prospect as a potential future all-star. Every fan of every team says that about all of their own prospects, so making that observation is so watered down and cliche it means next to nothing, even if you believe in it 100%. Let’s see all parties involved get a full, healthy season playing together at the major league level before we go announcing each as potential all-stars.

    And if you’re going to make a comment like “David Wright is a team player and he has already stated publicly he would agree to a move to second if it means helping the team,” please provide a link to where we can read Wright say such a comment. Because I don’t remember him saying anything like that, so it would help to see some proof of your statement. I’m not saying you’re a liar, I’m just saying that perhaps I have a bad memory and don’t recall Wright being so obliging to the Mets’ needs.

    Joe – regarding Johnson/Reed/Sullivan as pinch hitters, here are their career batting averages as pinch hitters:
    Johnson .238 (19/80)
    Reed .255 (24/94)
    Sullivan .233 (24/103)
    So I guess no one really holds an edge over anyone else in that category.

  13. QueensQrew January 19, 2010 at 8:07 pm
    I do remember reading that Wright might move to the outfield if the Mets signed A-Rod in 2007. That second base thing sounds vaguely familiar, but I’m uncertain as to whether I actually heard it.
  14. isuzudude January 19, 2010 at 8:28 pm
    Breaking news:

    Jeremy Reed signs minor league deal with Blue Jays


    Bengie Molina re-signs with San Francisco, 1 yr $4.5 mil

  15. gary s. January 20, 2010 at 1:10 am
    more breaking news… me and isuzudude will play 2nd base before d wright does.somebody else had wright moving to centerfield the other advice..get on my ny jets bus from now till sunday.if the jets lose, we can put david wright behind the plate for 2010..if they win, it gives u two more weeks to root for my jets amd not have to deal with the wilpons folly.. the bus pulls out 3pm sunday so u all have plenty of time to hop on ..
  16. isuzudude January 21, 2010 at 7:31 am
    Another update:

    Cory Sullivan signs minor league deal with Houston. CF options now starting to dwindle.

  17. isuzudude January 22, 2010 at 7:35 am
    Another one bites the dust: Rick Ankiel signs with Royals.