If the New York Mets fancy themselves as contenders this season or next, they’re going to need to reinforce their offense. With few options forthcoming in free agency, the team’s front office needs to be creative.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a glut of outfielders, both young up-and-comers and high-paid veterans. Their already crowded outfield may soon get a new addition in top prospect Joc Pederson, which could mean a corresponding move to alleviate the logjam would be necessary. The question then becomes if there is a fit between the Dodgers’ embarrassment of riches in the outfield and the gaping hole that is the Mets’ starting left field position?
Two expendable Dodgers’ outfielders, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, are both having extremely poor seasons at the plate and both players are owed over $60 million through 2017. Both have batting averages hovering around .250 and on-base percentages (OBP) around .300 in addition to very little power and speed—obvious reasons as to why the Dodgers may look to move the two aging under-performers.
Crawford has undergone a steady decline since signing a mega-contract in 2010, leaving him as a shell of his former self and a player the Mets shouldn’t go near. Ethier has been an above-average player as recently as last season, and in the right deal (with the Dodgers picking up most of his contract and minimal prospects required in return) he may be an option. However, aside from what would be a perfect and probably unrealistic deal for the Mets, Ethier shouldn’t be on the Mets’ radar either.
While Crawford and Ethier wouldn’t be good options, Matt Kemp and Scott Van Slyke stand out as intriguing options for the Mets, albeit for very different reasons.
Let’s take Kemp’s case first. After nearly winning the National League Most Valuable Player of the Year Award in 2011, injuries and poor performance have plagued the talented 29-year-old. His struggles at the plate and in the field (–2.6 dWAR this season according to Baseball Reference) along with a bloated contract (over $110 million he is owed through 2019) make Kemp an undesirable player to acquire.
With that said, Kemp has been more durable this season and has shown some signs of life at the plate. He has posted a slugging percentage of .425 and a wRC+ of 116, which would rank second and third respectively amongst Mets’ starting position players this season. While it seems like wishful thinking to say that Kemp has the potential to again be an All-Star caliber player, very few players in Major League Baseball offer Kemp’s upside and are available.
Trading for Kemp, even in a Mets-friendly deal, would be a huge gamble. If the Dodgers kick in $60 million or more to cover some of the remaining contract and the price in prospects isn’t too steep, however, it might be a gamble worth taking.
While acquiring Kemp would be a high-risk, high-reward proposition for the conservative Mets’ front office, acquiring a player like Scott Van Slyke is a much safer option.
The 26-year-old Van Slyke won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2016 and while his upside is limited, he could fill a few holes for the Mets. A right-handed bat, he could play in left field providing solid offense and defense and/or form a formidable first-base platoon with Lucas Duda. Duda struggles mightily against lefties, hitting .167 with a .262 OBP and a .074 isolated power while striking out 36%of the time. Van Slyke doesn’t have the same problem, crushing lefties at a David Wrightesque clip.
|Duda 2014 vs. RHP||.282||.377||.539||.257||12%||157|
|Van Slyke 2014 vs. LHP||.295||.449||.738||.443||19.2%||228|
While Van Slyke’s .443 ISO and 228 wRC+ against lefties have come in a relatively short sample size (78 plate appearances) and there are certainly questions if he can be more than a part-time player, he would be able to contribute regardless of his role. Van Slyke hasn’t been given too many opportunities, but a .808 career OPS can always be useful. His patient approach at the plate and ability to get on base would also make him a seamless fit with a team that has the fourth highest walk rate in Major League Baseball. If he’s available, the Mets shouldn’t consider giving up too much in exchange for Van Slyke, but for the right price he could provide a new dimension for the Mets’ lineup.
As the trade deadline approaches, there will likely be opportunities for the Mets to make a move, whether it be a flashy move like acquiring Kemp or a more conservative one like acquiring Van Slyke. Whether it’s with the Dodgers or another team, no trade will be perfect, but general manager Sandy Alderson has the roster and prospect flexibility to make impactful moves. If he does is a whole other question.