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.

10-11 Offseason

About the Author

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.

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