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: