(Long Island, N.Y.) When you are going through a total rebuilding phase, there are elements of your team that will surely suffer. Perhaps the pitching will be thin or a part of either the infield or outfield, as well. But it is very difficult to head into spring training with question marks in an entire section of your starting nine, as is the case with the 2013 New York Mets outfield.
General manager Sandy Alderson played it ultra-safe and only added low-priced players and non-roster invitees such as Collin Cowgill, Andrew Brown and Marlon Byrd to go along with incumbents Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda and Mike Baxter. Not exactly names to put fear into the opposing pitcher, but that is the harsh reality while enduring growing pains.
Alderson made an attempt to sign Michael Bourn, but the years and money – plus the uncertainty if he would have cost the Mets a first round draft pick – made it a good non-move.
So as it stands right now, it appears that Duda will get a shot in left field to see if he is a legitimate full-time major league power hitter (he hit 15 home runs in 401 at-bats in 2012) and Nieuwenhuis is the early favorite to start in center. But there is a lot of room for improvement and a few players figure to be in the mix in more than one spot, right field being the main one.
Baxter won over the fans last year at Citi Field with an amazing catch to preserve Johan Santana’s June 1 no-hitter, but that alone may not be enough for him to have his name placed on the lineup card on a regular basis. Byrd, who has had some success at this level, brings more experience to the table and may have a bigger upside if he can rediscover the stroke that he had a few years ago.
A 12-year veteran, Byrd has a career average of .278 and had his most productive campaign as a member of the Texas Rangers in 2009 when he hit .283 with 20 home runs with 89 RBI. Last season with the Chicago Cubs, Byrd batted .276/9/35 in 119 games and also served a 50-game suspension due to testing positive for a banned substance. At 35 years of age, it’s ‘put-up-or-shut-up’ time for the well-traveled outfielder.
Being an exciting player in a down year can do wonders for someone, and that was the case last summer with the man known as ‘Captain Kirk.’ Making some highlight film catches, Nieuwenhuis had his share of followers at Citi Field, but the reality is that he is a light hitting player in a spot that requires major production, especially with so many holes around him. So unless he gets off to a good start, he may find himself as the fourth or fifth outfielder.
Perhaps once teams begin making cuts, there will be one or two names added to the Mets’ outfield mix. But there will be no stars coming here to save the day. Alderson – and manager Terry Collins – will have to make due more or less with what they currently have.