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Mets David Wright Not a Golden Goose (Pt. 1)

As the hot stove league kicks into full gear, Mets third baseman David Wright has taken center stage as reports have the Anaheim Angels a potential trade partner. With centerfielder Peter Bourjos rumored to be on New York’s wish list along with a couple of pitching prospects, Mets fans seem to believe Wright, one of the better players in franchise history, is worth significantly more in return.

On Twitter, I’ve asked a number of followers why with answers ranging from “Wright is the Mets Derek Jeter” to “CITI Field has depressed his value”. With Mets fans screaming “The fence, the fence” much like “Tattoo” screamed “The plane, the plane” on “Fantasy Island”, it seems as if Wright’s return to the seven-to-eight win player he once was is just around the corner. And while I can somewhat buy the park being a factor in Wright’s diminishing returns, outfield fences have little to do with Wright’s -31.1 UZR over the past three seasons.

Even with Wright’s poor fielding, he has still been able to accumulate 9.5 WAR between 2009 and 2011. However, this leaves him sandwiched between Dodgers Casey Blake and Phillies Placido Polanco amongst true third baseman. This isn’t to say I’d prefer either to David Wright, but both Polanco and Blake earned 5.25 million in 2011 while Wright received more than two-and-a-half times as much.

And while both the Phillies and Dodgers are now looking for upgrades at the position, Wright is owed 15 million in 2012 before possibly hitting free agency the first time on the wrong side of his prime. Sure, this assessment may seem like I’m piling on the doom and gloom, but David Wright is a long ways away from the 27-plus WAR player who many viewed as a future Hall of Famer as recently as 2008.

When assessing Wright’s trade value, it’s important to view it in terms of his expected value versus how much his production will cost. And while Wright very well may rebound into a three-to-four win player, I’m still waiting for a piece to be written laying out a reasonable path to his returning to All-Star level or more.

Fellow Fangraphs writer Eno Sarris sums it up Wright’s BEST case scenario this way,

a rosy projection would have Wright worth about four wins a season for the next two, minus his $30ish million in salary (if he allows the second year option to be picked up despite the trade). Plus, the $5.5 million the compensation picks gives him about $15 million in surplus value. According to Victor Wang, that’s worth a top 51-75 hitter ($14.2 million plus inflation) or anywhere from a top ten pitcher to a top-50 pitcher ($15ish million).

At 30, does Wright allow his option to be picked up in lieu of what could potentially be a last chance at a multi-year deal? Maybe he pulls an Adrian Beltre, but it’s a risky proposition and would only happen if Wright posted a second consecutive disappointing season.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Peter Bourjos coming off a 4.3 WAR season as a 24-year old in Anaheim. The antithesis of David Wright, he’s an overachiever with little name value whose sum of the parts offset his not being supremely gifted in any one area. He’s the type of player the Fangraphs crowd loves, but the average Mets fan won’t be particularly excited about based on the .271/.327/.438 triple slash line.

However, a quick glance at the Mets’ organizational depth chart leaves many more questions than answers in centerfield at this point as injuries, inconsistency and questions leave the system without a surefire everyday prospect at the position.

Prior to injury, Kirk Nieuwenhuis was productive in triple-A buoyed by a .407 BABIP offsetting a nearly 27% strikeout rate. Of Mets centerfield prospects, he’s the only one I haven’t had the opportunity to scout in person except for the newly drafted Brandon Nimmo. Unfortunately, his season was cut short by labrum surgery of which he’s expected to be healthy by spring. He’s the closest to the show, but not without significant question marks going forward.

Between high-A and double-A, Matt Den Dekker combined for 17 HR and 24 steals while maintaining a .190+ ISO throughout. With a reputation for being an elite defensive centerfielder, the player I scouted in 2010 was more above average which is still quite an accomplishment. However, strikeouts are definitely a concern and spiked to nearly 30% against more age-appropriate competition. For me, Den Dekker is more of a fourth outfielder at his peak than an everyday player in center.

In high-A, Cesar Puello, a personal favorite and prospect who received dark horse top-100 consideration heading into 2011 spent time in centerfield after playing right for most of 2010. I applauded the move as Puello’s tools are good enough for him to have to be forced off of a premium position.

However, Puello stumbled to a sub-.300 on base percentage in the first half before a strong second half once again brought his overall stat line back to respectability. He has the highest upside of any outfielder in the system not named Brandon Nimmo, but his development could go in a number of directions leaving him far from a sure thing.

Of course Brandon Nimmo is eons away, but deserves a mention as Mets centerfielder of the future. Just 18, he’s the definition of a high upside talent, but will need considerable development time. With Peter Bourjos arbitration eligible for the first time after the 2014 season and under team control through 2017, Bourjos would function as a dependable bridge to Brandon Nimmo should the first round pick develop as planned.

In part two, I’ll wrap up this “twin killing” by looking at the pitching depth in the Mets organization and the roster flexibility the team has gained from minimum salaried big league options.