COMMENTARY | One thing we know for certain, now that Major League Baseball's free agency period has arrived, is that the New York Mets will not be big spenders.
Even if the Mets were in a better financial situation, I would probably advise against signing both players. Hamilton is 31 years old, and he has a lot of wear and tear on his body. Though he's still in his prime, because of his well-documented off-the-field issues, New York City might not be the best place for him. He's also looking for big-time dollars, money the Mets just don't have. Greinke, meanwhile, had a solid season last year and has 91 career wins. But he's thrived in smaller markets, and someone is probably going to overpay to get him simply because the starting pitching cupboard is so bare. Even if they had an open checkbook, the Mets would be wise to stay away from both players.
Here's the reality for the Mets: Their greatest need is in the outfield. Though there were issues last year, I'll trust that Sandy Alderson, the team's general manager, can put together a bullpen. Their infield seems pretty much set (assuming they don't trade David Wright), and you can make do with a starting staff comprised of R.A. Dickey (assuming they don't trade him), Johan Santana (assuming he's healthy), Jonathon Niese, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Dillon Gee.
That brings us back to the outfield, where New York is in bad shape. The Mets seem ready to let Andres Torres walk, Scott Hairston can probably get a bigger contract somewhere else, and Jason Bay was released this week. That essentially leaves the Mets with Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Mike Baxter, and Jordany Valdespin in the outfield. Baxter and Valdespin could be effective off the bench, but you don't want to start the season with either of them in a starting role.
Nieuwenhuis showed enough in 2012 -- though he struggled at times and his season was cut short due to an injured foot -- to justify giving him the center field job, at least to start the season. In 91 games, he hit .252 with seven home runs and 28 RBIs. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts (98 in 282 at-bats), but he showed potential. As of right now, it sounds like the Mets are prepared to go into next season with Duda in left field. That leaves a huge hole in right field, and that's why the Mets should target Arizona's Justin Upton.
Upton is 25 years old, and he's signed for three more years at a total cost of $38.5 million. I know the Mets aren't in the habit of spending money these days, but Upton represents pretty good value. In 2012, he hit .280 with 17 home runs and 67 RBIs. That's considered a down year for Upton, who hit 31 home runs in 2011. In 2009, he hit .300. He has a combination of speed and power. Upton hasn't yet lived up to the expectations placed on him after he was taken first overall in the 2005 draft, and he might never become the great player everyone assumed he'd be. But he has star potential, and right now he's still a very good ballplayer.
Upton will cost a little bit of money, and while that would be a consideration for the Mets, here's something else they must take into account: Whoever trades for Upton is going to have to send some top talent back to the Diamondbacks. The Mets would certainly have to consider what Arizona would want in return for Upton. Would the Mets be willing to part with major-league players and prospects in the minors? And, do they have anything that the Diamondbacks would want?
But think about what this would do from a public relations standpoint. The Mets sign David Wright and R.A. Dickey to long-term deals. Then they plug Upton into a lineup with Wright and Ike Davis. There are your No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 hitters for the foreseeable future. Add shortstop Ruben Tejada and second baseman Daniel Murphy to the mix and hope for the best from Duda, Nieuwenhuis, and catcher Josh Thole. I think Mets fans would at least give that lineup a chance in 2013.
You could argue that none of the top free agent outfielders makes sense for the Mets. As I said, Hamilton is out of the question, as are guys like Torii Hunter (too old and too expensive); Nick Swisher (too expensive and too bad in the postseason); B.J. Upton (good player who has the potential to be great, but isn't there yet); and Melky Cabrera (the use of performance-enhancing drugs got him a 50-game ban last season). I'm assuming Angel Pagan, who they traded last offseason, isn't being considered, and like I said before, Hairston seems ready to cash in after a very good 2012 season. I'm intrigued by Michael Bourn's speed and defense but not his price tag. Shane Victorino seems like nothing more than a stopgap guy at this point.
Justin Upton could be a game-changer for the Mets. Upton represents why baseball fans come back to their team every year, despite what may have happened the previous season. Fans hope for the best, thinking each spring that this could be the year.
Maybe 2013 is the year when Upton becomes the superstar people expect him to be. At the very least, he's better than what the Mets have now.
Charles Costello has followed the Mets closely since the rookie years of Darryl Strawberry (1983) and Dwight Gooden (1984). He was a beat reporter assigned to cover the Mets during the 1997 and 1998 seasons.
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