Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What You Already Know: The Outfield

Today is the first of a set of previews regarding the Mets that we're going to try to enlighten you with. Most likely though, it will be a lot of rehashing of stuff that you already know. So humor me as we start with an overview of the Mets outfielders.

It didn't seem like Endy Chavez got as many at bats last season as he did, but Chavez ended 2006 with 353 at bats, which is a decent amount as a fourth outfielder. With Moises Alou's recent injury troubles, Shawn Green's slump (we're just assuming), and Carlos Beltran's nagging injury (again, we're assuming), there's no reason to believe that Endy isn't going to get at least 353 ab's if not more. That's probably why we haven't seen headlines that look mysteriously like "ENDY: PLAY ME OR TRADE ME" in the past month or so.

What worries me about Endy is the number 560...as in Endy's slugging percentage in the Venezuela Winter League. Chavez has had problems in his pre-Met days (technically, this is his fourth stint as a New York Met) thinking he's a home run hitter), so on the heels of his strong winter play and his ascension to cult figure status with Mets fans (including myself), Chavez is a prime candidate to fall off his mighty perch, although his strong spring is easing those fears by the day.

There's also Ben Johnson, who the Mets received in the "Ring my Bell" trade with the San Diego Padres during the off season, and former Oriole David Newhan, who was signed by the Mets as a free agent. The acquisitions of Johnson and Newhan signal a change in philosophy by the Mets. They are getting away from the game plan of "hey, let's put some of our spare infielders in the outfield...what can it hurt" (see: Samuel, Juan and Miller, Keith), and moving towards the line of thinking that maybe it's a good idea to have guys who have actually played the outfield in their career come in and back up. It seems to be working as both players are having eye-opening springs.

Johnson has 7 home runs in 195 career at bats. If you project that to a full season...well it's still not that much. But Johnson provides something that the Mets bench, as good as it's been the last 2 seasons, have lacked: pop. Most nights there was nary a true home run threat lurking on the Mets bench as true home run threats like Mike Jacobs and Victor Diaz were either starting for injured players, or in the minor leagues.

Newhan represents versatility. He can play some infield but was primarily an outfielder during his time in Baltimore. Newhan, if he even makes the team, will assume the "jack of all trades" role that was earmarked for guys like Chris Woodward and Jose Valentin who were infielders posing as outfielders.

But there's another reason why the acquisitions of Johnson and Newhan are intriguing:

Oh yeah, Lastings Milledge.

To the astute baseball observer, Johnson and Newhan provide a bridge to Lastings Milledge while giving him the opportunity to spend a full season at AAA New Orleans and not have to worry about riding the bench.

To an insane conspiracy theorist like myself, the two acquisitions are a bridge to Carlos Gomez while Milledge is dangled endlessly in a trade. (Milledge, to his credit, has been noted to have a positive attitude adjustment...whatever that means...revitalizing his chances to be a significant part of this team in the future, and perhaps revitalizing his trade value in the process.)

But besides Beltran, aren't all of these outfielders bridges in one way or another? Green has one more season left on his pricey deal...and one would assume that he isn't in the Mets' long term plans unless he returns to his turn of the century form when he was jackin' 40 dingers a year (and if you're betting on that to happen, I have a Bill Doran rookie card that I want to sell you for the low low price of a thousand bucks). But keep in mind that if Green makes it to October baseball as the starting right fielder, he hit over .300 for the Mets during their run last October.

Then there's Alou, which was a strange signing. There are some that think signing Alou was smart...and it was smart in that it wasn't a 25 year deal at the price of Fort Knox. But others think that his nagging injuries and Cliff Floyd's nagging injuries cancel each other out, while Cliff's relative youth and positive clubhouse influence means a net loss for the Mets. But remember that we don't know much about Alou's clubhouse influence and that it could be just as good as Floyd's. For all we know, Alou could go around the clubhouse extolling the virtues of urinating on their hands to toughen up the callouses while going from locker to locker asking interested teammates if they "need a hit".


Mike said...

I'm just not seeing my way to this whole Green/Alou/Johnson/whatever his name is thing. But, that's what we have.

For my money I'd rotate 4 corner outfielders around Beltran and hope for the best: Chavez & Green as the lefty half of a rotating platoon and Milledge/Alou as the right side.

At least you're getting leather when Endy's in there. Green & Alou . . . well, not so much.

(When Landing Strip Spiezio's up, let's bring in Endy, ok?)

Unser said...

I see Alou being given lots a days off. He'll probably be treated like a catcher (no day games after night games). He'll also be removed for late inning defense, with Chavez replacing him. Assuming Johnson makes the roster, I can see him spelling Green against tough lefties from time to time.

Unlike last year, I see depth in the Mets outfield. If Alou goes down, Milledge is up, staring everyday. If Green slumps, Milledge replaces him. Even if both Alou and Green go down due to injury or ineffectiveness, Chavez and Milledge are at the ready.

And Ruben Sierra's gone, so that's a good thing.

Moist Towelette said...

Anybody know how Milledge has looked in the outfield so far besides that one throw early in camp that everyone raved about? I think he'll hit if/when he gets a chance but he really looked brutal trying to catch fly balls last year.

Anonymous said...

ehwqcIf you want pop off the bench, shawn Green is an option. that also adds defense by default in RF. Johnson, Endy or Milledge can hit 7th and give the L-R option.