The Mets and Curtis Granderson, the free-agent outfielder, agreed to a four-year, $60 million contract on Friday. There are plenty of ways to look at this. He’s 32, and the two things that made him particularly valuable throughout his career, power and center field defense, are young man’s skills. Moreover, expecting anything like his MVP-caliber 2011 would be a mistake, regardless of his age.
But this is a huge coup for the Mets because they need good baseball players, having very few of them, and especially in the outfield. Granderson is a pretty good bet to be such a thing in 2014, and arguably, in the years that follow.
The deal is not without risk. Granderson is getting plenty of comparisons to Jason Bay, which makes sense if you notice that Granderson’s current Baseball Reference top comp is Bay. It also makes sense, given that the last time the Mets signed a free agent to any kind of big-money contract, it was Bay, four years ago.
For much of the intervening time since, the Mets have been claiming that big contracts, and not ownership’s rocky finances, are the reason the team hasn’t done basic roster maintenance, let alone added big-ticket items.
But Granderson has some things going for him that Bay, and George Foster — another Mets outfield import who turned 33 just before debuting with the Mets back in 1982 — did not. Granderson was a center fielder for years, and thus should see his defense age better in a corner than Bay and Foster, who relied on their hitting alone to make themselves valuable by the time they got to the Mets.
Bay and Foster also became, essentially, platoon players upon joining the Mets. Granderson, who had major issues against lefties earlier in his career, has been roughly as effective hitting lefties as righties over the last three years, with some mechanical improvements. (Caveat: Bay and Foster’s troubles with same-side pitchers seem to have begun when each joined the Mets.)
But if Foster was the team’s announcement in 1982 that they were willing to add big names again, it hardly worked out. It was adding Keith Hernandez the following June, and Gary Carter after 1984, that made a larger difference in the eventual 1986 World Series championship year. (Foster was released in August 1986.)
It didn’t much matter, though, with a farm system capable of producing outfielders in bushels, from Kevin Mitchell to Lenny Dykstra. And they already had that Mookie fellow.
These Mets don’t have any such pipeline in the outfield. Granderson might be worth 2.4 wins above replacement, if Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS is to be believed (and lord knows, it should be). But replacement is an amorphous term. The outfielders the Mets have on hand without Granderson aren’t likely to rise to even that minimal level of production.
And as Toby Hyde, Mets prospect guru, pointed out when I asked him, no one in the organization is likely to rise to Granderson’s production, even in 2015. Squint hard, and you can maybe see Brandon Nimmo there by 2016. Of course, baseball teams still require three outfielders, and Chris Young is signed for only one year, so a logjam is unlikely.
Ultimately, if Granderson ages poorly, and the Mets use a single player averaging $15 million per season as a reason they can’t add other talent, when their only other post-2014 obligations are to David Wright and Jon Niese, they aren’t in a financial position to compete with the rest of Major League Baseball, anyway.
So rejoice, Mets fans! Tonight, we get to talk about a player who’s actually joining the Mets, not one of the myriad reasons and excuses why a player isn’t.