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Mets Want Angel in the Outfield

Angel Pagan is a man of extremes. If his name isn’t the perfect indication of that, his stats are. According to Jon Heyman, the New York Mets plan to offer Pagan a contract before the Decemeber 12 arbitration deadline. While this decision would have been a no-brainer as recently as a year ago, the 30-year-old outfielder is coming off a down year — where he failed to replicate the success of his 2010 breakout. With the Mets hoping to get younger — and cheaper — is keeping Pagan around the best decision?

Pagan virtually came out of nowhere in 2010. After years of part-time play with the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, he was finally given a shot at a full-time role. He did not disappoint. Led by a slightly inflated BABIP — and great defense in centerfield — Pagan was worth 5.5 WAR in his first full season. According to our leader boards, Pagan rated as the tenth best outfielder that year.

For a follow-up, Angel fell back to Earth. Though he was able to improve both his walk rate and his strikeout rate last season, his BABIP and defense took a turn for the worse. Pagan — who rated as the sixth best defensive outfielder in 2010 — posted the second worst UZR among outfielders last season. It’s difficult to judge a player by just one season of UZR, but players that alternate so drastically are much harder to accurately evaluate. Pagan has been a pretty decent defender over his career — particularly in the corners — so perhaps injuries sapped his ability to play a useful centerfield last season.

With that in mind, the Mets are hoping on a bounce back from Pagan in 2012. So long as his BABIP returns to normal — and he didn’t forget how to play the field last season — it’s a good bet Pagan will improve. He may not reach the heights of his 2010 season — which was fueled by great defense — but that’s still enough to make him a better option than the centerfield free-agents. Those free-agents might come slightly cheaper than Pagan — who is expected to make between $4-$5 million in arbitration — but none can match Pagan’s upside.

Based on the poor free-agent market for centerfielders — and the fact that teams are actively pursuing upgrades at the position, as evidenced by the Melky Cabrera trade, the Mets could choose to trade Pagan. Pagan, however, is coming off a down season, and the Mets would likely be selling too low on a player likely to rebound in 2012.

Considering all the factors involved, the Mets would be wise to hang onto Pagan for at least another season. Pagan is a likely candidate to improve next year, and he still comes relatively cheap. While he probably won’t replicate his great 2010, the Mets aren’t going to find a better replacement on the market. Betting on Pagan past 2012 is a risky proposition — considering his short track record of success as a full-time player — but hoping for a rebound next season is a smart bet. With a little bit of luck, Pagan can finally put his hellish 2011 behind him.