The Fourth Outfielder

I keep reading in various places that the Mets have earmarked a portion of their meager winter budget for a fourth outfielder. If this is true, why?

It’s pretty much been established that the 2011 season will not be one seeing the Mets fighting for a playoff spot. Call it “rebuliding”, “assessing and evaluating”, “reconstructing”, or whatever you wish — the bottom line is that the team is not making a conscious effort for the short-term, and is only in the nascent stages of the long-term plan. That said, why would there be any concern about acquiring a fourth outfielder — even if it is low on the list of priorities?

Moreover, don’t the Mets already have a fourth outfielder somewhere in their system? Unless something changes between now and opening day, the starting outfield will consist of Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan, and Jason Bay. None of these three men need a defensive replacement in the late innings, and none are likely to be lifted for a pinch-hitter in any situation, either. Beltran is the only of the three who may require regular rest; if he’s the starting centerfielder, Pagan will slide into his spot on those days and a the “fourth” outfielder will step into a corner.

Now that we’ve established the regular routine, what do the Mets need from that fourth outfielder?

Ideally, he’s someone who can provide some power on the days Beltran (or Bay) is absent from the lineup. It would help, but is not necessary, if he can cover all three outfield positions; if Pagan turns out to be the starting centerfielder, both Bay and Beltran are capable of handling CF when Pagan needs a break. Additionally, this extra outfielder should also be a potentially strong pinch-hitter. In reality, the Mets probably are best suited with not only a fourth outfielder but a fifth one as well — but that “fifth” would also be versatile enough to handle an infield position (or catch) and have a slightly different skill set (i.e., hit from the opposite side, provide speed if the other has power, etc.).

Taking a cursory look at the Mets 40-man roster and high-level minor leaguers, there are several candidates to fill these roles:

Nick Evans
You may remember this guy as the Mets’ occasional starting leftfielder in 2008. He hits from the right side, has shown flashes of power, can play all four corner positions, and might even be considered as an emergency catcher. Though he has shown an ability to take pitches and go the other way, his big swing has some holes. Additionally, he is slow on the basepaths and only marginal defensively. But those weaknesses don’t outweigh his versatility and power potential. He turns 25 at the end of January and it’s time for him to be on an MLB roster for a full year to see what he can do.

Lucas Duda
Duda is essentially the lefthanded-hitting version of Evans. He turns 25 a few days after Evans, and shares his power potential, strike-zone discipline, lead feet, and so-so glove. The main difference is that Duda can’t play 3B nor catch — but he doesn’t need to.

Daniel Murphy
Wait, isn’t Daniel a first baseman? Or is it third baseman? Or second baseman? Yes.
We know Dan well for his ability to play many positions with equally poor aplomb, but we also know he has the potential to swing the stick. I never once bought into the Wade Boggs / Don Mattingly comparisons, but I absolutely believe he can be a Don Money or Mark DeRosa-type of supersub. Though it appears he will be given a shot at second base this spring, I’m guessing his glove won’t be good enough for everyday play, and therefore his bat would need to be like Dan Uggla’s to take the starting job. But that’s OK, because he could potentially get 400+ ABs coming off the bench and filling in at several positions.

Jason Pridie
Pridie is an excellent defender at all three outfield positions, has above-average speed, and hits from the left side. Early in his career he was compared to Steve Finley, and he could still fulfill that projection (if you consider Finley’s numbers before PEDs). Pridie tends to be overly aggressive on the basepaths and at the plate, so he gets caught stealing too often and doesn’t take enough walks. However he is a hustler and a great teammate. You may consider him a slightly younger version of Jeremy Reed.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis
Many Mets blogs love “Captain Kirk” for his all-out hustle, overachieving, and attractive OBP and OPS numbers in 2009. He hits from the left side of the plate and has above-average speed and excellent athleticism (he was a big-time high school football player). His defense is stellar, and can handle centerfield. You many consider him a younger version of Pridie and/or Reed, but with more power potential. The only concern is that his OBP took almost a 40-point drop after moving up from A ball to AA/AAA last year. But, he’s only 23 and has time to turn that around.

Russ Adams
Adams is really a second baseman / shortstop, but he’s capable of playing the outfield corners in a pinch. He’s a lefthanded hitter who showed a little bit of pop as Toronto’s everyday shortstop in 2005, and has developed more power in AAA over the past few years. I wouldn’t consider him a long-term solution in the outfield (should such a situation present itself) but he could compare similarly to Murphy as an all-around super sub — but with a better glove.

You may note that I did not mention Fernando Martinez nor Cesar Puello — the Mets’ top two outfield prospects. That’s because neither belong in the big leagues right now, and both need to spend a full year in the minors in 2011. I also didn’t consider new Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus, Zach Lutz, nor Reese Havens, because none of those three has played an inning of pro ball in the outfield; though, we might see any of them start to shag flies this spring. Finally, I didn’t discuss Chris Carter because he is currently a free agent, and there aren’t yet any indications that the Mets will bring him back.

Still, there are at least six in-house candidates to fill that “vital” role of fourth outfielder. Personally, I see that “fourth” being a two-headed slugging monster such as Evans and Duda, though I can also envision a combination of a good glove with a versatile, offensive-minded player — such as Pridie (or Nieuwenhuis) and Murphy (or Adams).

What do you think? Who do you see as the fourth (and fifth?) outfielder? If not an in-house candidate, explain why, and offer a current free-agent who you believe is a better fit than someone the Mets already own.

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. Steve S. December 28, 2010 at 3:09 pm
    Very good points, Joe. I, too, was wondering why many of the “experts” were mentioning the Mets’ need for a fourth OFer. Most importantly, we need to sign at least one starting pitcher, a LH reliever (giving O’Connor a shot, as well), and couple of RH relievers.
  2. Jay December 28, 2010 at 3:51 pm
    The only reason an outside 4th OF might be labeled “necessary” by the current front office is if the organization simply doesn’t believe that Pridie is adequate enough and also doesn’t want to start “Captain” Kirk’s clock and thus they want someone who, if necessary, could step into CF.

    The previous front office clearly didn’t think Pridie capable and therefore acquired Gary Matthews Jr. so it will be interesting to see if the current front office feels the same about Pridie. Should they feel that way I am confident that they would make a better choice than Matthews Jr. both in terms of cost and ability.

    Aside from the potential for the front office to bring in more CF depth the only scenario I can see them going outside the organization for OF is if one of the players you note above gets seriously injured.

    • Joe Janish December 29, 2010 at 2:33 am
      Starting the arbitration clock on Nieuwenhuis is an interesting angle. But, does anyone believe he projects as more than a 4th OF as an MLBer? In which case, who cares? More to the point, why would a New York team — that should be spending more than anyone else in the NL — care whether the clock is started on a young outfielder? I guess my point is, if Nieuwenhuis turns out to be something better than a platoon player, then starting the arb clock a little early is a nice problem to have. Though, at the same time, it might not be the worst idea to see him play a full year at AAA, in the hopes he develops into something better than expected.

      As for the Mathews / Pridie debate … I have no idea why the Mets didn’t just hold on to one of Jeremy Reed / Cory Sullivan. Either of them would have been better than Mathews, much cheaper, and wouldn’t have cost a usable bullpen arm.

  3. Robert December 28, 2010 at 4:03 pm
    I think the Mets are looking for an athletic outfielder who can play all three positions with some pop in his bat. I think Fukedome could fit that bill if the Cubs were interested in Castillo, Igarashi and okay with giving up cash.
  4. Rob December 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm
    My first impulse is to call into question the accuracy of the so-called reporters who have floated this particular story-line. I sometimes wonder if the press doesn’t have an agenda of their own, pushing a storyline to either satisfy their own fantasies of being a GM or trying to sell newspapers/webspace for a team that clearly doesn’t intend to do much between now and Spring Training.

    That said, I think that there may be something to the notion that any existing talent shouldn’t be “wasted” in the majors (during a give-away year), giving it time to develop in the minors so that “major league service time” isn’t accrued. Of course, if you haven’t got much to lose in 2011, why not give these players some time to develop? But perhaps the notion for management is that you still need to put fannies in the seats. So if you go outside the organization and shop around for a new face, that will give fans the impression that you’re building something that might just compete today. And if you subscribe to notion that many of the fans just aren’t sophisticated enough to know the difference, perhaps my theory holds some water.

    Anyway, I agree that the farm system would supply our current outfield needs, so there wouldn’t appear to be a pressing need to shop around and spend more money. They should save the cash and bank it for that future rainy day that they seem to keep planning for…faaaarrrr in the future.

    Thanks, Joe!

    • Joe Janish December 29, 2010 at 2:52 am
      Interesting point, Rob … maybe this fourth outfielder stuff is the figment of imagination. I’d find it hard to believe the team would go out and sign a reserve outfielder like Scott Podsednik or Fred Lewis with the thought that such an acquisition would result in ticket sales. Certainly, tickets weren’t sold after GMJ was acquired last spring. But who knows — there may be something to that theory, considering that the majority of Mets fans are nowhere near as sophisticated as the small percentage who follow the blogs every day. Thanks for the comment!
  5. mic December 28, 2010 at 4:33 pm
    The answer is FMART! who is the ascending RF. But presumably a veteran bat is wanted as insurance. I think the diapers are still on fmart, but i think he could suprise this yr. …especially in limited action…think carlos gomez.

    There is a much bigger post here nestled in your analysis; ‘Mets outfield 2011, what would u do?’

    1. LF; JASON BAY. your stuck here…he must rebound

    2. CF; ANGEL PAGAN- he IS tradeable and a high potential asset…he is cheap, accomplished, under control and can play all 3 positions. I think he can net a starter if traded. Both kirk and fmart could see time at the position as well as other OF spots

    3. RF. talk is that CB could be traded. He is healthy again and primed to bounce back. he makes 18M, BUT it is an expiring contract, good for a Milwaukee, or Padres type club that wants a savy veteran for a big run at the playoffs, but not an albatross multi year contract. i still think the Yanks or R-Soxx are a good match…so too the White soxx.

    4. i think Nick Evans is taking Tatis’ spot. Pridie and Duda most likely Sept callups.

  6. Larry Smith December 28, 2010 at 4:39 pm
    I believe the Mets have clearly stated that Duda will not be on the club unless it is as a regular. So unless one of the OFers is traded or injured I think you can cross Duda off as a potential fourth OFer.
    • Joe Janish December 29, 2010 at 2:54 am
      Thanks Larry. I hadn’t heard/seen that detail on Duda. If that’s the case, the idea of Murphy as supersub makes more sense — complementing him with an OF who hits from the right side (Evans?).
  7. DC METS FAN December 28, 2010 at 5:02 pm
    Fernando Martinez isn’t even in the conversation any more. How sad!
    • Joe Janish December 29, 2010 at 2:39 am
      Actually the fact that F-Mart is not in the conversation is a GOOD thing — because he really, really, really needs to complete a full year of 500+ at-bats somewhere to develop his skills. If he’s on the 25-man roster in 2011, he probably won’t get the reps he so sorely needs.
  8. Ron Davis December 28, 2010 at 10:16 pm
    I do not picture Lucas as a everyday player. I think he can start at times but not as a fulltime guy. DC he still has tons of talent on F-Mart but he has to show he can stay in the lineup he has to go to Buffalo and play then he will be back as a prospect right now he is a Alex Escobar player.
    • Joe Janish December 29, 2010 at 2:46 am
      Agreed on Duda. A bunch of Mets fans are of the opinion that Duda is the next Adam Dunn but I’m not so sure. Like Ike Davis, he has the ability to hit the ball a long way but whether either of those youngsters can make solid contact consistently is still a big question. Wily Mo Pena and Butch Huskey had the raw ability to hit the ball long distances but that didn’t make either of them MLB stars.
  9. Graham December 29, 2010 at 12:44 am
    I’m with Joe and his two headed Duda/Evans monster idea for 4th outfielding and pinch hitting. although, I think Duda has the boom stick. there is nothing “tradeable” about Pagan; he is one of the best in Mets uniform, and will end up in center when Beltran goes down in May, and then proceed to put up top five numbers at the position by the years end. I could see “Duvans” combining for around a 500 slugging % and 30+ homeruns in right or left if Bay decides to run into a wall again.
    • Joe Janish December 29, 2010 at 2:57 am
      “Duvans” — I like that!

      Actually I think Pagan could be trade bait, albeit it later in the season and assuming he continues to hit as he’s had since mid-2009. The Mets are not building for 2011 nor 2012 — they’re looking at 2013 and beyond. That said if they can get a worthwhile return for Pagan while his in his prime, I believe they’ll jump at the chance. Not that I’d be happy with it, but it wouldn’t surprise me considering the Moneyball front office.

  10. PETER December 29, 2010 at 1:08 am
    This is a story not worth taking serious. Why? Did the author actually see Daniel Murphy play outfield for the Mets in 2009. If he did, then he wouldn’t be floating the idea of him as a 4th outfielder. Keep in mind that Murphy was so horrible that the Mets made him their first baseman.
    • Joe Janish December 29, 2010 at 2:37 am
      PETER, there were five other players mentioned in addition to Murphy. Secondly, I suggest Murphy as an occasional outfielder — someone who might spend 20-30 games out there in addition to playing other positions (1B, 2B, 3B).

      I agree with you that Murphy was pretty awful in the outfield, but he’s been pretty awful at 1B and will be pretty awful at 2B as well — not unlike Mark DeRosa, who is equally awful no matter where you place him on the field. But, IF Murphy can provide some offense, he could be somewhat valuable if shifted around the diamond to limit his exposure on defense. If he doesn’t hit, then he’ll be in AAA.

  11. gary s. December 29, 2010 at 10:14 am
    joe, are you really serious about danny murphy being a supersub for the mets?Imho, murphys ship has sailed.When he played 2 years ago, he was totally exposed as a .260 hitter with no glove.Put him in a package for a pitcher and trade him him to the A.L. where he can dh.Melvin Mora could have been obtained for next to nothing to supersub for this team the next year or two, but we were too tied up with the Paulno signing to do much else or the wilpons cut off Aldersons checkbook.
    • Joe Janish December 29, 2010 at 11:01 pm
      Gary, there is absolutely no chance of getting anything of value in return for Murphy right now, even in a package. I never thought he’d be Wade Boggs but I do think he has a chance to either be a .280 guy with occasional pop or a .260 guy with more occasional pop and a decent OBP. He appears to be a hard working kid with a good attitude, which has some value.Now that the ridiculous over-hype of him has been replaced by uber-love for Ike Davis, I can root for Murphy — he’s an underdog now!
  12. CatchDog December 29, 2010 at 10:52 am
    At Citi this season, I’d go with Bay, Pagan and Beltran. Pridie fits the mold as a late innings defensive replacement who is inexpensive and would be thrilled to be on the roster. Nick Evans for the 4 corners but I’d be giving him as much opportunity in right as possible. Pagan doesn’t hit lefties well so Nick could get some starts and Pagan also could spell Tron, which in turn could provide more time in the outfield for St Nick.

    In Buffalo, I’d run out FMart in left, Kirk in center and Duda in right. Then, in 2012, the Mets could platoon Evans and Duda in right, which could provide good production at cost controlled pricing.

    The question is could these two handle the expanse of Citi’s right field or does Bay shift to right after this season?

  13. Nate W. December 29, 2010 at 11:04 am
    I had forgotten about Nick Evans (err) ability to play some IF, not that 1B/3B need that much depth. But I like the idea of Evans and Murphy being PH options who can at least take the field at a number of positions. It makes someone like Hu taking up a roster spot to be an emergency SS a bit more allowable.

    Pridie and Evans are out of options so the idea of getting them another year of development is not sound. I would definately let Martinez and Neuwenhuis stay in AAA all year, or at least until Beltran goes on the DL. Duda to me is the guy who could go either way, I dont see him as high ceiling guy so using up his time as a bench player is not really a problem. But the numbers are against Duda because he has options, and if Murphy doesnt win the 2B job thats one more LH bat ahead of him.

  14. Pudge701 December 29, 2010 at 12:45 pm
    You are assuming Bay, Beltran, and Pagan will stay healthy all year. There is a very realistic chance that one or more of them could get hurt. Beltran could even get traded. In that case, you need someone who can step in as a viable major league outfielder on an every day basis for a prolonged period of time. I’m not sure any of the Evans & co. type player can do that, with Evan probably being the best shot.

    It’s not as if a passable 4th outfielder is going to break the bank. You might have to pay a Reed Johnson type another $800K like he made last year. I have slightly more confidence in his ability to be passable over the longer term than I do Evans, and a guy that can play respectable defense and cover in center would help.

    If you were only going to need to use them for an occasional off day and to pinch hit, I’d agree with your premise that the Mets could get away without signing another outfielder. But we don’t know if we’ll need them for more than that. The Mets may know right now they play to trade Beltran and want to have someone that can step into the full time job mid-season.

    • Joe Janish December 29, 2010 at 11:10 pm
      I disagree 100%. Reed Johnson “is what he is”, and he blows chunks. I’d rather pay the MLB minimum to Cory Sullivan or Jeremy Reed than pay double to Reed Johnson for basically the same output — particularly on a team that is
      going absolutely nowhere.

      On the other hand, Nick Evans MIGHT turn out to be at least as good as Johnson (or any of the other stiffs available on the market), and he’ll be dirt cheap, and he’s only 25, so there’s still an outside chance he can improve.

      Also I’m not assuming that all three of Pagan, Beltran, and Bay will be healthy all season. What I AM assuming is that the team is not going to sniff the postseason, so most if not all decisions on personnel should be made in regard to 2012 and beyond. If it turns out that Beltran (for example) misses 100 games, that gives one of the younger kids an extended opportunity to turn into a legit MLBer; nothing wrong with that.

  15. Tom Christensen December 29, 2010 at 1:23 pm
    Danny Murphy is a solid ballplayer he can hit and run and pinch hit when called upon. I know he wasn’t a polished outfielder but he filled in very well at first base when Del Gardo was released . I think if given the chance he could be a better outfielder even though he was an infielder by trade. His ability to come off the bench and get a hit when needed was uncanny ,thats why we need his bat on the 40 man roster . To make a second baseman out of him streches things because of his size .I think when the roster is filled he’ll be there because Nick Evans is not the hitter Danny is .
  16. brian reilly December 31, 2010 at 11:18 am
    Joe, In terms of pitching, do you think we’ll end up getting Chris Young ? How about Bruce Chan ? Does it make any sense to bring in Aaron Heilman as a starter with an incentive laden contract ?
  17. Don Sims December 31, 2010 at 5:56 pm
    Yeah, let’s throw Heilman in to start. I always wanted to see it and I think he’d be extra pumped to prove something.. . . . and personally, I think he would.