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Angel Pagan and Free Agent Windows

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Who else is there again?
Who else is there again?

Let's say you feel pretty strongly that Angel Pagan should be tendered a contract. You'd have plenty of reason to think so based on his play (and salary) over the last three years combined. There's still one asterisk to append to the decision: What are the alternatives? The natural ebb and flow of the free agent market has to have something to say about the situation.

Mark Simon picked his way excellently through the different aspects of Pagan's performance of the past two years. You could sum up much of the Pagan-leaning argument as saying 'flaws and all, Pagan is most likely going to be worth his salary award in arbitration next year and the Mets have no immediate in-house candidate to replace him.' You can get more detailed -- his defensive numbers this year have been bad, but if you use his three-year sample in its place, he's probably been better than a one-win player this year -- but the crux of the matter is that he's still cheap and still productive.

But that's analysis based purely on the merits of the player without context. The context that a team provides must enter into this discussion at some point.

One contextual aspect that matters is the status of the team as a contender or not. A contender might look at their two-win center fielder and want more out of the position even if they have to pay more to get it. If we look at the Mets as currently constructed, they aren't likely contenders next year. Case closed? He's still a value?

Not quite.

Because the Mets have to contend soon. With the Wilpons losing money now and taking bandaid loans and family investors to keep the team afloat, they have a fire under their buttocks. They need to start drawing fans again soon, and they have a good chunk of money coming off the books. Tendering Angel Pagan only kicks the can down the road -- what will they do next year? And, especially, what will they do next year if they are ready to take another step forward... and the free agency market for center fielders is terrible?

Yes, in order to make the decision about Angel Pagan correctly, the free agents at his position both this year and next year must be considered. Because they could use the $5 million budgeted to him next year towards the first year of a free agent's contract if it meant that they got a better free agent. Let's look at the options for both years, with their salaries current and future, all courtesy Cot's Contracts. Let's add in their two-year fWAR totals for good measure.

2012 Free Agent Centerfielders

Rick Ankiel (2.2 WAR, $1.5 million)
Mike Cameron (.3 WAR, $7.75 million)
Coco Crisp (5.6 WAR, $5.75 million)
Scott Hairston (0.4 WAR, $1.1 million)
Grady Sizemore* (0.3 WAR, $7.5 million, $8.5 million club option in 2012)
Endy Chavez (1.5 WAR, ?)

2013 Free Agent Centerfielders

Melky Cabrera (2.1 WAR, $1.25 million, Arb 4 in 2012)
B.J. Upton (6.3 WAR, $4.825 million, Arb 3 in 2012)
Marlon Byrd (5.4 WAR, $5.5 million, $6.5 in 2012)
Michael Bourn (10 WAR, $4.4 million, Arb 4 in 2012)
Matt Kemp (7.6 WAR, $7.1 million, Arb 3 in 2012)
Shane Victorino (9.7 WAR, $7.5 million, $9.5 in 2012)

It looks like next year is the year in terms of top-end talent. Even if you're looking for a possible value play, Byrd and Upton might make for undervalued options when stacked up against the big names on the 2013 list. The 2013 list is a little light on defense-first guys, but Bourn and Upton have been good with the glove. And the bats on that list are tempting.

The fact of the matter is that, other than a rejuvenated (and healthy) Grady Sizemore, there's not a name on the 2012 list that is a mortal lock to outperform Angel Pagan next season. And even if Mike Cameron doesn't retire and plays up to a 3-win season or Coco Crisp takes less than ten million a year to do the same, are they worth an investment now when the options next year will be more palatable and plentiful?

It seems that context helps cement the decision. For a team in limbo, needing to get the most of every dollar in the short term while keeping an eye on competing in the mid-term, and looking at the available crop of free agent center fielders that will enter the market next year, it all makes sense. It's time to re-up the Angel in the outfield for one more year.