Since writing Part 1 of this series, which detailed three hypothetical, arbitration-eligible outfield trade targets, the New York Mets actually acquired an outfielder: Rick Ankiel. Somewhat predictably, Mets fans reacted adversely, as the 33-year-old has become a perennial albatross and trash heap frequenter due to his poor plate approach (26 strikeout percentage, 7.7 walk percentage). What is perhaps most perplexing about the addition is that Ankiel, seemingly, is the complete antithesis of what the Sandy Alderson regime represents in terms of batter patience.
Alas, Rick Ankiel is a Met, at least for the time being. But that hardly means the team will not continue to pursue other outside the organization options. Here are three more pre-arbitration trade targets that the Mets could look to acquire.
How could someone who has a higher career strikeout rate—31.5 percent—than Ankiel ever be a useful player? Well, that's a fair point, but Justin Maxwell does have a few things going for him. Maxwell has a superior career walk rate of 10.8 percent, is four years Ankiel's junior, and assuming he comes back from his fractured left hand injury in the near future, would only first be arbitration eligible in 2014.
The 29-year-old Houston Astros outfielder also enjoyed a career year in 2012, posting a 105 OPS+, 18 home runs, and 9 stolen bases, while playing pretty darn good defense in center field with a 30.8 UZR/150. Not that it's a particularly significant achievement on a team that only won 55 ball games, but Maxwell did lead the Astros with a 2.5 bWAR, too.
Maxwell could be a nice buy-low candidate for the Mets, as the former Maryland Terp will likely require another month or so to recover from his fractured hand. With prospect Robbie Grossman now roaming center, as well as J.D. Martinez, Chris Carter, and Jimmy Paredes manning the corners, there might not be a starting role for Maxwell in Houston upon his return. In addition, unlike most of the outfielders the Mets have been using, at least Maxwell has a level of recent success in the major leagues.
Like Maxwell, Justin Ruggiano was a late bloomer. After seven years of toiling in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays systems, the Miami Marlins threw him a life line in 2012. And boy did it pay off.
Despite only owning 207 major league plate appearances prior to the season, Ruggiano emerged as an all-around menace, posting a 146 OPS+ with 13 home runs, 14 stolen bases, and a respectable 9.0 percent walk rate. Fielding metrics also liked the Texas native in center field, where he gloved a plus 5.5 UZR/150 over 412.6 innings.
Yet, Ruggiano has struggled so far in 2013, in what could be considered his "sophomore" season. His 101 OPS+, while still solid, is a far cry from his elite 2012 rate. And even though the 31-year-old's batting average on balls in play is currently sitting at a seemingly unfair .262, it's perhaps more likely Ruggiano's .401 BABIP last year was favorably inflated.
Interestingly enough, Ruggiano hasn't accumulated a lot of service time—2.019 years to-date—which is unique given his comparatively elder age. Given the team-control angle, his pre-arbitration status is arguably his most valuable asset. Once Giancarlo Stanton comes off the disabled list, the Marlins could potentially dangle Ruggiano, promote Christian Yelich, and feature a homegrown and splendidly exciting outfield of Stanton, Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna.
Of the above pre-arbitration trade targets, Brandon Belt is easily the most intriguing option. Belt is just 25 years old, and he was named the Giants' best prospect by John Sickels as recently as 2011.
Despite posting a 123 OPS+ in 2012, the former top prospect went yard just seven times—only one more home run than James Loney. Playing all but 27.3 innings at first base, this lackluster power for a corner infielder was pretty unacceptable.
Unfortunately, Belt isn't doing much better in 2013. In 134 plate appearances, Belt has swatted an inferior 113 OPS+, while seeing his walk rate dip from 11.4 percent to 9.0 percent and his strikeout rate spike from 22.5 percent to 23.1 percent. Even though Belt is smacking around right-handed pitchers to the tune of a 123 wRC+, he's been atrocious against southpaws at 35 wRC+. Because of this, manager Bruce Bochy has begun actively platooning him with Brett Pill.
The Mets could potentially take advantage of the Giants' growing discontent with Belt, and hope a change of scenery could inspire the talented hitter. In regards to position, there is no doubt that Belt is much more comfortable at first base with a 5.1 UZR/150 in 1,471 innings there, but with 269 innings in the outfield at the major league level—and a decent 2.3 UZR/150 to boot—the Mets have done worse outfield experiments.