The U Files # 43: Outage in the Outfield

The Mets outfield has been a weak point on the team for years, going back to the glory days of 2000. It reached the point where Rob Neyer wrote an article for ESPN.com wondering when the Mets would ever field a good outfield. This trend continued in 2003, with the three OF spots collectively being 45.5 runs below average defensively. It is natural that one of the spots the Mets will seek to upgrade in the off season is the outfield.

There are two big-name options available as outfielders in the 2003 transactions market: Vladimir the Impaler/ Vladimir L'Imapler of Les Expos de Montreal, and Carlos Beltran of Kansas City. Should the Mets choose the path of preserving their minor leagues, options may include Mike Cameron, and Jose Cruz Jr. Vlad "that's Mr. Imapler to you" Guerrero will be a type A free agent, unless the powers that be choose now to play a big joke on the Expos, should he not resign and the Untelevised Ones get hosed in compensation. Beltran is a highlight of the 2004/2005 FA class, and could continue the proud tradition of big money players traded by low money teams before armored trucks start to make regular visits to their Villa.

Vlad, who need go by no other name, is simultaneously the most boring off the field and the most heart-pounding option available to fill any position in MLB, unless some team fields a roster of strippers to be contrite. First, when he is not writhing from the wrath of his herniated disk, no other player can match his efficacy at walloping just about any pitch that may be thrown within an area code of his center of mass. Secondly, few players inspire such dread with every sight of him, that he could crumple at any moment with such crippling effect on the lineup.

Call him "The Iffy One". If he does not work out, he does not work out in a big way. It could take a pretty big bong to wangle insurance from some unsuspecting insurer, on Vlad. Should he go uninsured, the owner of whatever team he picks will be obliged to spend half his waking hours in fervent prayer. Also, insurance only covers the instance that the player not step on the field of battle, at all. Should he merely degenerate into the world's biggest stick wielding disappointment, his team is stuck with an albatross.

Beltran is healthy, young, and has indisputably posted impressive rows of numbers. On the other hand is an anemic, ignored issue that may have Beltran labeled a disappointment merely for playing the same game he has been playing, under different circumstances. The issue is, park adjustment. Park factors for Kansas City and Shea are available for 2000, 2001, and 2002, and as for 2003 I have calculated park factors myself.

The first three columns are his actual Batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage posted in the middle of nowhere, USA. The next three are his stats adjusted to the Giant Red Fruit.

Year

AVG.

OBP

SLG

AVG

OBP

SLG

2000

.247

.309

.366

.238

.297

.352

2001

.306

.362

.514

.283

.335

.476

2002

.273

.346

.501

.248

.315

.455

2003

.307

.389

.522

.283

.358

.481



Despite the adjustment factor, Beltran may be the best healthy-of-back option open to the Mets, should he replicate his 2003 season.

What the Mets have to ask themselves is, is the immediate boon provided by either of the above options worth the price the organization must pay. In the case of Vlad, it would be senseless to take such a monumental, green paper-gobbling risk given that the potential for thunderbolt-hurling on his part will not be the difference between glory and ignominy. There will be less risky outfielders on the market just one year later, that are still potential impact makers for whenever the Mets can be discussed with as much admiration as they now draw derision. This list includes Carlos Beltran.

This brings us to the next point: that any trade Beltan may only be a trade for one year of his services. His agent is the inimitable Scott Boras (insert Ooohs and Aaahs here). As a consequence, Beltran will be loath to give up free agency. Should a trade hinge on Beltran signing an extension, contact Vegas for odds of the trade coming to completion. Plus, on account of his ballpark-inflated stats and his agent's sanity, the price he demands may not jive with the boost he provides.

Should be not be offered arbitration by the Seattle Mariners, the best wise option may turn out to be centerfielder Mike Cameron. He has posted numbers in the ballpark of Beltran's adjusted numbers, while playing in the run-damping environs of Safeco field. Plus, he is the best defensive player of any of the names mentioned in this writing.

Another option is Jose Cruz, Jr. Playing in the most pitcher friendly environment unable to contain Barry Bonds, Cruz posted a line of .250/.366/.415. This gives more on base ability than the league average corner outfielder (adjusted for park), and less power. Given the relative importance of the two, Cruz winds up close to an average hitter at his position. Defensively he'd hurt you in center field but is acceptable as a left fielder.

Past these, there is always Reggie Sanders, who has performed this exact role with some success in the past. The full list of players available to the Mets without requiring compensation won't be known until December. When these names are unveiled, I will continue to strike the keyboard with my insane rantings.

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