Mets outfield as uncertain now as in November
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Asked about his outfield at the general managers’ meetings last November, New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson quipped: “What outfield?”
With Scott Hairston, Jason Bay and Andres Torres departing, and Collin Cowgill, Marlon Byrd, Andrew Brown and Jamie Hoffman coming in, the outfield remains as unsettled as it was three months ago.
“This is about opportunity and you never know how someone’s going to take advantage of opportunity,” Alderson said.
As the Mets held their second full-squad workout Tuesday, the seven outfielders on the 40-man roster totaled 434 games of major league experience in the outfield.
Lucas Duda has 175 of those and is slotted into left field following a demotion to the minor leagues for a month last summer. He had surgery in November after he broke his right wrist while moving furniture.
Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Cowgill, acquired in a December trade with Oakland, could platoon in center.
Right field could be manned by Byrd. Or it could be a combination of Mike Baxter, Byrd Brown and Hoffman — with the three newcomers all at spring training with minor league deals.
Creating even more options, infielders Zach Lutz and Justin Turner also are working out in the outfield.
“It’s definitely an opportunity for young guys and anyone else,” Duda said. “We’ve got a few veterans and young guys in the mix. We are pretty inexperienced as a whole, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t going to play hard or play well.”
Though Duda is the only player manager Terry Collins has labeled as an everyday outfielder, the 27-year-old still has to show he belongs there. He batted .239 last year with 15 homers and 57 RBIs in 459 plate appearances this year after hitting .292 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs in 347 plate appearances in 2011.
Collins said he expects a better year for Duda offensively and defensively — where he is switching from right field to left.
“I think if he’s comfortable he’ll show us the offense we know he is capable of having,” Collins said. “He will improve his defense, and at the same time his offense will improve to where he’s a positive player for us. I have a lot of hope for Lucas, and we’re relying on him.”
Collins mentioned Baxter as a possible leadoff hitter last week. He’s also praising Byrd, an All-Star in 2010 when he batted .293 for the Chicago Cubs.
Byrd hit .210 in 47 games for the Cubs and the Boston Red Sox last year, was released June 12 and then suspended June 25 for 50 games following a positive test for Tamoxifen, which can reduce side effects of steroid use and increase testosterone.
“This guy was one of the best players in the National League not too long ago,” Collins said. “If he’s the same player he was in Chicago a couple of years ago, we might have found ourselves a right fielder. I know he’s that kind of talent.”
Baxter’s season was interrupted when he crashed into the left-field wall to preserve Johan Santana’s no-hitter against St. Louis on June 1. Baxter displaced the joint between his right collarbone and sternum and tore rib cartilage on his right side, and he didn’t return until July 30. While he hit .323 in 65 at-bats before the injury, he batted .228 in 114 at-bats after his return. That left him at .263 overall.
“I think we’ve got a good group that’s definitely excited about the opportunities to prove what they can do, and we’re excited about that,” Baxter said. “Anytime a team is going to give you a chance to show what you can do and give you a chance to win a starting job on the team, that’s a great opportunity — one you should take advantage of and make the most of.”
The 76 games of big league outfield experience for the 28-year-old Baxter make him a relative veteran on the Mets. Cowgill, 26, hit .269 in 38 games with Oakland last year and has played 61 games in a big league outfield.
Nieuwenhuis, 25, made his major league debut last year and hit .252 in 91 games, 83 of them in the outfield.
“As a group we know what we can do,” Cowgill said. “We don’t have to prove anyone right or wrong. We just have to go out and play hard and win games. That’s our goal, and I feel like this team is going to do that, and the outfield is going to have a lot to do with that.”
Notes: The Mets await word on Daniel Murphy, who flew to New York on Tuesday morning to have his right side examined. Murphy said Monday he was experiencing a “slight tug” and wanted to head off any potential issues as early as possible.