Looking to make their biggest Hot Stove splash in years, the Mets have zeroed in on free-agent outfielder Curtis Granderson, whose recent dinner with general manager Sandy Alderson has led to an ongoing negotiation session this week. Fans seem split on the pursuit, with some lauding Granderson's power, while others lament his age and declining speed. So let's try to make sense of the potential acquisition, while the Mets are busy talking dollars and cents:
The Mets are going to give four years and $60 million to Granderson, who will be 33 on Opening Day? How is this any different than when they gave four years and $66 million to Jason Bay, who was only 31 at the time?
-- Peter K., Levittown, N.Y.
A good observation and an interesting question. Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that the Mets ultimately sign Granderson for the four years and $60 million that you say (which is probably at the high end of what they would offer).
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Taken as an isolated player acquisition, that deal would carry all the same risks that Bay's did at the time, and perhaps a few others. Bay was on the wrong side of 30 when he signed his deal, and Granderson is even older than that. Bay was coming from Fenway Park, a paradise for right-handed hitters, while Granderson is coming from the left-handed playground known as Yankee Stadium.
Though Bay had been durable up until that point in his career, there were questions about the health of his knees. Granderson, likewise, has been sturdy save for two freak injuries that sabotaged his 2013 season.
Now let's consider the differences. When Bay signed his deal in December 2009, the Mets were already saddled with one of the highest payrolls in baseball, which included huge multiyear commitments to Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo. If the Mets made a mistake with Bay, they were going to have to squeeze themselves financially to correct it.
Contrast that to this winter, when the Mets -- even while operating under continued austerity -- have enough payroll freedom to absorb a bad contract without it crippling them for years to come. That's exactly what Alderson has worked to achieve.
Then there is the matter of roster flexibility. Signing Granderson would give the Mets a much-needed source of left-handed power, making Ike Davis increasingly expendable in a trade for a starting pitcher or shortstop. It would also free the Mets to deal Daniel Murphy if they desire, knowing they can shift Eric Young Jr. to his natural position of second base.
Speaking of which…
I don't understand the value of trading Murphy. We have in Murph a .290 doubles machine who can handle New York. Who is going to step in to fill his offensive shoes? The Mets' offense cannot support a light-hitting defensive second baseman, even if he is fast.
-- Robert S., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Murphy is a popular player -- I get that -- but it's important to look at him objectively. One reader went as far as to email me calling Murphy "Chase Utley in the making." Sounds good, except that through his age-28 season (2,439 plate appearances), Murphy has accumulated 8.3 rWAR and 9.0 fWAR. Utley, through the same age (2,419 plate appearances), amassed 25.8 rWAR and 23.4 fWAR. They're not comparable players.
It's not that the Mets want to trade Murphy, it's that they have to consider selling high on a player who has reached a critical point in his career. Murphy has one elite big league skill, and it's a difficult one to replicate from year to year: contact hitting. Though he improved his defense, power and baserunning in 2013, his on-base percentage took a dive, and he was almost comically streaky from month to month. With those factors in mind, if Murphy runs into some bad luck in 2014 and hits .265 instead of .286, his value could take a major hit at a time when his salary is really starting to escalate.
The Mets could take that risk, pay Murphy even more through arbitration in 2015, then either sign him to a long-term deal or let him walk. Or they could plug Young in at second base, likely experience an offensive downgrade at the position and try to make up for it with baserunning and athleticism. You make sacrifices in one area in the hopes of improving overall.
The wild card in that scenario would be Young's defense. A natural second baseman, Young moved off the position per the Rockies' request early in his big league career. According to MLB.com beat writer Thomas Harding, then-Colorado manager Jim Tracy made the switch hoping Young's speed would play better in the outfield than at second base, where he struggled defensively at times in the Minors. Though Young was nominated for a Gold Glove in left field in 2013, some scouts and advanced metrics painted a less flattering picture of his outfield defense. There's a chance that with work, he could be more valuable at second.
If the Mets are willing to add an extra $40 million to their payroll, why is Robinson Cano not a top priority? I understand the Mets don't want the long-term deals, but he is the best player on the market and could bring a lot to the team. Trade Murphy, Davis and Lucas Duda to save $10 million, sign Cano for eight years at $27 million per year, and Granderson four years at $15 million. After signing Young at $7.25 million, the Mets still would have a few bucks to spend. Package together two prospects to pick up an innings-eater type pitcher.
-- Tim K., Cohoes, N.Y.
And with those moves in place, the Mets would effectively do the one thing Alderson refuses to do: destroy the team's payroll flexibility in future years.
Look, there's a fine line between maintaining flexibility and not doing enough to help your team, and Alderson is doing his best to straddle it. That could even mean acquiring Cano, if all the right chips fall into place later this winter. But Alderson would much rather spread out his dollars amongst an outfielder, a few pitchers and even a shortstop than go for broke on a single player. The GM abhors long-term commitments, and Cano is asking for one of the longest in big league history.
Davis played both the outfield and first base in college. Why doesn't he move to right field and have Duda at first?
-- Al J., Waco, Texas
Davis was also 25 pounds lighter back then, according to figures from the Mets and Arizona State, and had not yet sustained the major ankle injury that nearly ended his career. Though he certainly has the arm for the position, his speed and range would expose him there -- and he'd probably be the first to admit it.
I find it difficult to understand the Chris Young signing. The public reasoning is that Young, a career .235 hitter, will do better playing full-time, and his defense and power will compensate for a low average and high strikeouts. In my opinion, the Mets have two cheap players in Matt den Dekker and Kirk Nieuwenhuis who will strike out, play great defense and have power. And I am certain that they have the "potential" to hit 235. So please explain the reasoning behind the signing.
-- Carmine B., Garden City, N.Y.
Power. That's the reason. Young once hit 32 home runs in the big leagues, the Mets believe such potential still exists within him and power is at a premium in today's game. Only 10 players in baseball hit 32-plus homers last season, and Young has a far better chance of joining that group than den Dekker or Nieuwenhuis. Though Young's base salary ($7.25 million) is high, it's not much of a risk for the Mets on a one-year deal.