NEW YORK -- Everyone laughed when Sandy Alderson cracked, "What outfield?" back in November, in response to a question about his team's alignment. But reality is beginning to set in for the Mets, who officially lost out on free agent Scott Hairston on Wednesday and have few other options in front of them.
Hairston, according to FOX Sports, signed a two-year deal with the Cubs, cashing in on his career-high 20-homer season. That leaves almost nothing available for the Mets to pursue outside of Michael Bourn, a Scott Boras client who is easily the most accomplished outfielder in this year's free-agent market.
For most of the offseason, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the Mets would not pursue Bourn, due to his assuredly high contract demands and their reluctance to lose their top Draft pick, No. 11 overall, if they did land him.
But that may be changing. The Daily News was first to report late Wednesday that the Mets are seeking a ruling that would allow them to keep their first-round pick if they signed a free agent such as Bourn, on the grounds that the Pirates landed a top-10 pick only after their first-round selection last year did not sign, pushing the Mets to No. 11.
Under Major League Baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement, the top 10 picks in the first round are protected for teams that wish to pursue elite free agents. The 11th pick is not.
Of course, there is no guarantee -- or anything close to it -- that the Mets would meet Bourn's asking price even if they are allowed to keep their pick. An elite defender, Bourn also established himself as one of the top leadoff hitters in the game last season, swatting nine home runs and stealing 42 bases.
Adding him would transform a starting outfield that currently consists of Lucas Duda in left, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center and Mike Baxter in right. Collin Cowgill and Andrew Brown appear first in line to make the team as reserves.
Hairston, likewise, would have altered the Mets' outfield alignment, though they would have had to guarantee him significant playing time -- perhaps even more than the 377 plate appearances he amassed last season -- to re-sign him. While Hairston would have provided his old team with some much-needed right-handed thump, his .281 on-base percentage against right-handed pitchers was a red flag.
But without Hairston, the Mets have no clear alternative. Bourn may be the only outfielder left on the market who will command a big league contract, and Boras has a reputation for extracting monster deals for his clients at the Hot Stove's 11th hour. Given the Mets' reluctance to spend freely on free agents under Alderson's watch, a big splurge for Bourn -- just weeks after trading away R.A. Dickey, one of their best players -- seems unlikely.