Before we get to the question in the title, quickly on David Wright and his interview with Adam Rubin: Wright spoke some truths that have been obvious for some time. It was still interesting to hear the biggest star on the Mets acknowledge them, when the Mets, by and large, haven’t.
Ultimately, whether Wright stays or goes requires two things:
1. The Mets to come up with the roughly eight-year, $160 million offer necessary to retain a player just turning 30, playing a premium defensive position well, and having arguably the finest season in the National League.
2. David Wright needs to believe that the Mets are close enough to contention to make it worthwhile to stick around, and that the Mets can pay him near market value while also affording a winning team around him.
The first one is in real doubt. What Rubin’s interview told us is that in Wright’s mind, the second part is in doubt, too, at least for now.
But who cares about the retention of the defining Mets player of this generation? You want to know who the center fielder will be in 2013. And I’m beginning to think it might be Scott Hairston.
Consider that Hairston, who started in center again on Sunday, has done so four times in the past ten games. He’s done so 11 times all season, so this is a significant bump in center field time for him. The Mets gave him eight starts in center field in all of 2011.
But here’s the thing: the Mets need someone to play center field in 2013. It is not a reasonable alternative to leave that lineup spot blank, no matter what the cost savings in doing so.
Here’s the list of players who manned center field for the Mets in 2012: Hairston, Andres Torres, Jordany Valdespin, Kirk Nieuwenhuis.
Torres made $2.7 million in 2012, put up an OPS+ of 81, will be 35 years old, and is likely to get a bit of a boost in salary through the magic of the arbitration process, should the Mets keep him around. Whether he’ll be worth it depends entirely on how likely he is to field well, and whether his meager production still trumps the team’s alternatives.
Jordany Valdespin is not a center fielder. He’s just not. Do the Mets think he can go to winter ball, learn the position next spring, and become one? He’d be cheap, at least, but that feels like a reach, even before taking into account that his plate discipline makes it extremely unlikely that his bat would justify a subpar glove in a key defensive position.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis has a couple of problems. He’s had season-ending injuries two years in a row. And his massive tailspin after a wonderful start is entirely in line with his difficulties at the minor league level making contact. There’s a good chance slumping Nieuwenhuis is just real Nieuwenhuis, more or less.
And if not these internal options, is there anyone on the free agent market who plays center field, will command less than the roughly two years, $4 million it will probably take to retain Hairston, and can be considered an upgrade? It’s not clear that anyone on that list of center fielders, with the exception of Alfredo Amazaga, will make less than Hairston in 2013.
What’s interesting about Hairston and the Mets is that for most other teams, there are better options than playing Scott Hairston in center field regularly, hoping that his ability to hit righties, which he’s done as a Met but nowhere before that, is permanent, and living with below average defense in center field. But with the Mets? Not really a better option. And for Hairston, this probably represents the best option to play every day.
I’m not saying this is going to happen. But it makes a lot of sense on both sides. And the Mets probably know this, too, which is why they are playing him in center so much lately.