The Mets have signed two new outfielders since last season: Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. It seems like a pretty safe bet to say the team's outfield—and as a result their offense in general—will be better in 2014. The Mets now have a versatile outfield with a couple different alignment options.
Twelve different people played in the Mets' outfield in 2013. Six of them are back this year to complement Granderson and Chris Young, along with other minor league signings and potential promotions. Terry Collins will have a lot of things to consider, but his choices are a lot better than they were last year. Young and Granderson will be starting, so it's really a race for that last starting spot and the two bench spots. Here's how those players performed last year, per Fangraphs.
|Eric Young Jr.
|Matt den Dekker
*Arm values are for career.
Both Granderson and Young could make a claim for center field. Neither has much time in the corners, though both put in some time in both of them last season. Juan Lagares is the best defensive option in center, but it's still uncertain whether he'll be starting the season in an everyday role. If not, Chris Young is two-and-a-half years younger than Granderson and would probably be the choice for center with Eric Young Jr. getting time in left field. If so, it makes sense to play Curtis Granderson in right field and Chris Young in left as Granderson has the better arm.
Eric Young Jr. vs. Juan Lagares is really the competition for that third starting outfield spot. Both will likely remain on the team regardless of who gets Terry Collins's nod as the Opening Day starter. This makes this one of the competitions that's somewhat muted by the realization that Collins could change his mind by game two. The Opening Day starter is really just the starter for a single game of the season.
Lagares needs the level of defense he showed last year, or improvement on his walk rate, to really claim the job, but in his age-25 season, there is still plenty of time for him to do just that. It's clear what Eric Young Jr. is going to give the Mets, and while he's not terrible, he shouldn't just be handed the job.
Reading between the lines, it seems Juan Lagares will be joining Granderson and Chris Young. Terry Collins thinks a .350 on-base percentage would be ideal for Eric Young Jr., but he's only reached that mark only once in a season. He had a .377 OBP for the Rockies in 2012, fueled mainly by some luck with balls in play raising his batting average .058 above his career average. Collins also mentioned 25 bunt hits, three times as many as Young Jr. has ever had in a season.
Collins has said he could use Chris Young or Ruben Tejada as a leadoff hitter if need be, which would erase his main reason for wanting to play Eric Young Jr. every day. Collins is hoping one of the two players shows him something that makes the decision easier. A strong showing from players at other positions—like Ike Davis or Tejada—might also convince Collins that the Mets can afford to play Lagares mainly for defense.
Three other names remain in the mix for the other outfield spot: Kirk Niuewenhuis, Matt den Dekker, and Andrew Brown. Nieuwenhuis and den Dekker both exist in that murky in-between area where they're no longer prospects but haven't proven themselves capable major leaguers. They strike out too frequently and play good defense, although den Dekker does more of both. Brown seems to be the least talked about, yet he put up okay numbers last year in a limited role. At 29 years old, it's not like he's a washed up veteran, and he is also more used to limited playing time, while den Dekker and Nieuwenhuis would be better served playing in Las Vegas getting daily at bats. The biggest thing working against Brown is that he's right-handed hitter and doesn't provide any platoon balance for Chris Young or Lagares.
Perhaps the Mets decide to carry Lucas Duda and Ike Davis, using Duda as a pinch hitter and emergency outfielder. They could even keep a sixth player that can player on outfield on the roster, like they did for parts of last year. Whatever they decide to do, the best starting outfield alignment is Chris Young, Juan Lagares, and Curtis Granderson, from left to right.