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New York Mets Outfield: Depth Chart Discussions

You know how when you stub your toe or bang your arm against something, you take a deep, hissing breath through your teeth sometimes? The pain causes you to suck air in with a “Thsssss!” or a similar pulling noise, and you squint your eyes a little?

Well, that’s pretty much what I do every time I try to look at the Mets’ outfield depth chart.

Many words have already been written about the Metropolitans’ lack of impact players in their outfield, with some lamenting that the team may have one of the worst outfields of the past several years, or decades, or ever. While I personally don’t think the situation is quite as bad as some have made it out to be, this depth chart is not going to be pretty, folks. Let’s get to it.

Left Field

This is the only New York Mets outfield position that I feel reasonably comfortable in naming a starter for. Lucas Duda was the primary right fielder in 2012, a position for which he is woefully unequipped. If you were a bit high on Duda last season, you weren’t the only one, and you may have been distressed by the fact that he didn’t live up to some lofty expectations as a power-and-on-base threat in the heart of the New York order. His slugging percentage dipped from .482 in limited action in ’11, to .389 in less-limited action in ’12. The truth of his power lies somewhere in the middle, I’d bet, and he still provides enough power and on-base potential to make him a moderate-risk, moderate-upside play in deep or NL-only fantasy leagues. Just don’t draft him in the eighth round like I did last year, please.

I suppose I should say something about Duda’s defense here, which is so bad that it warrants special mention. The thing here is that it will cause him to lose PA late in games, as he’s lifted for a defensive replacement (perhaps Collin Cowgill or Mike Baxter?). But I expect him to get the everyday shot, with one of the Mets’ collection of fourth-or-fifth outfielders backing him up.

Center Field

The Mets currently have two players tearing up Spring Training in an attempt to win the starting center field position, but neither player is a sure-fire fantasy (or real-life) contributor. Jordany Valdespin is a classic “better in fantasy than real life” player, pairing iffy defense and an icky (sabermetrics term) approach at the plate with surprising power and the potential for dozens of steals. He’s got the whiff of a “this just might be crazy enough to work” player about him, and if he is anointed the Opening Day center fielder and leadoff hitter, well, he probably has a place on a number of fantasy teams. If everything breaks right, he sits against lefties, and pitchers don’t figure him out right away, he could provide surprising fantasy value.

Most likely, Valdespin will (or should) be platooned with Collin Cowgill. A right-handed hitter who can handle all three outfield positions, Cowgill doesn’t have a transcendent skill, and hasn’t performed well in limited big-league action, but has a nice minor-league track record of power, walk rate, and speed. It’s easy to look at his 2011 campaign at Triple-A in the Diamondbacks’ organization (13 HR, 30 SB, 148 wRC+) and get excited, but his 2012 was a down season in the Oakland organization, and there hasn’t been any sign of this kind of hitting skill in the bigs just yet. Maybe all he needs is playing time? Maybe he’s a “Quad-A” mirage? In any case, the Mets have the PAs to give him a shot, and he could have a little value if everything breaks right.

Kirk Nieuwenhuis plays good enough defense in center field to hold down the position defensively, but he has a lot of trouble hitting lefties and his strikeout rate is cause for concern. And while that defense is good enough, it’s certainly not elite to keep him starting if his bat doesn’t improve. Alas, he’s fighting a bad knee in Spring Training. I’d expect Captain Kirk to get up to speed in Triple-A Las Vegas to start 2013, but he could hit the bigs quickly if an injury or ineffectiveness plagues Valdespin or Mike Baxter.

Right Field

Look out world, Marlon Byrd is back! After a not-so-great 2011 in Chicago and a whoa-this-is-really-awful 2012, Byrd has turned it on during 2013 Spring Training, and looks to have the inside track on the Mets’ starting right field gig. Make no mistake, though, he’s probably still a bad fantasy option for you and your team. While Byrd has shown a little pop in the past, and can provide a decent batting average, I’d expect his R and RBI stats to be middling, and his power is on a noticeable decline, bottoming out with a .035 ISO last season. He’s striking out more, walking less, and not hitting for power … but he’s a veteran presence and can play passable outfield defense, so hey, he’s probably got the job for now. At any rate, Byrd’s a terrible fantasy play, in all likelihood. And if he’s blocking a Mets player who may actually turn out to be an okay starter (such as Mike Baxter or Collin Cowgill), that’s probably not good for their team either. Avoid.

Mike Baxter will inevitably get some time in right field, either as a platoon partner for Byrd (probably the best use of Marlon) or as a regular after Byrd inevitably doesn’t produce with the bat. Baxter has some real value, especially hitting against right-handed hitters, and was an above-average hitter in 200+ plate appearances in 2012. At the same time, he doesn’t have a lot of power, benefits from a high OBP — not a high batting average — and probably won’t be in a position to score or drive in a host of runs. He may provide a few steals on the cheap, but he’s more of a mid-season pickup than a draft option.

Bench

I’ve already talked about the bench guys to some extent, because the bench isn’t much different from the starters on this squad. In all fairness, the players who will reside on the outfield bench may get just as many plate appearances over the course of the season as the presumptive starters, especially considering how slight the talent difference is. Jordany Valdespin is having a great spring aside from, you know, getting hit in the groin by a Justin Verlander fastball. Given how successful he was in a pinch-hitting role last year, his position versatility, etc., you could probably expect him to have a fourth OF / PH role even if he doesn’t make the strong side of the center field platoon. And yes, you could probably say the exact same thing (minus the fastball to the groin and pinch-hitting excellence parts) about Cowgill.

The other bench outfielder is likely to be either Byrd or Baxter, with my money being on Baxter to lose out on the Opening Day right field slot and be the fourth/fifth outfielder on the team. The minor leagues have a few options in Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker, but again, nothing to make fantasy owners stand up and take notice. It’s not a complete wasteland, but it isn’t a great scene here.

LF: Lucas Duda

CF: Collin Cowgill / Jordany Valdespin (platoon)

RF: Marlon Byrd

Bench: Anthony Recker OR Landon Powell, Justin Turner, Brandon Hicks, Jordany Valdespin, Mike Baxter

Lurking: Kirk Nieuwenhuis, someone else, hopefully