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Tuesday, November 5, 2013
10 to buy: Potential free agents for Mets

By Mark Simon

Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesShin-Soo Choo would give the Mets the offensive punch they lacked in 2012.
With free agency upon us, here's a ranking of the 10 players whose combination of skills and cost best fit what the Mets are looking for.

1. Shin-Soo Choo, OF A few weeks ago, Matt Meyers laid out an articulate case for why not to sign Choo. Here's the argument for signing him: The Mets had a .236/.306/.366 slashline (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) against right-handed pitching. Those ranked 28th, 24th and 28th in the majors respectively. But for one exception (2011), Choo has been a ferocious hitter against right-handers. His slashline against them over the last five seasons is .311/.416/.521 with a large chunk of that coming in Cleveland (as opposed to hitter-favorable Cincinnati).

A typical team will get about 70 percent of its plate appearances against righties (as the Mets did in 2013). The Mets need to improve their performance against that 70 percent. Choo would do that in a big way.

2. Stephen Drew, SS Drew is the best shortstop in this free-agent market, one that does not contain a lot of offensive-minded players at the position. Drew is a two-to-three Wins Above Replacement player (when healthy) at a position in which the Mets are just trying to get back to neutral. He too plays a role in solving the struggles against right-handers, brings an adequate glove, and has shown a willingness to work a walk that would fit well within this team's plan.

3. Carlos Beltran, RF We're not saying this is likely, because it isn't, but of all the players in free agency, Beltran would fit the Mets idea of following the "Red Sox model" best -- a well-experienced player with a history of quality production who would be gettable on a short-term deal. Granted this is not the Beltran of 2006 to 2008, but it's a player who looks like he still has 130 to 140 games left in the tank for the next couple of seasons.

4. Curtis Granderson, OF What you're buying in Granderson is a seven-year track record from 2006 to 2012 rather than the one hindered by injuries and limited to 61 games last season. It would be foolish to think that Granderson could replicate the 40-homer seasons (2011 and 2012) from Yankee Stadium's bandbox ballpark in Citi Field, but 25 homers over 500 at-bats seems realistic given his pre-Yankee history.

5. Marlon Byrd, OF This might be the most tepid endorsement of Byrd that you'll read. There are two reasons for a lack of enthusiasm. 1) His success rate when hitting a ground ball was extraordinarily high, particularly given his history, and a return to his usual rate could mean about a 20-point dip in batting average. 2) Byrd is one of a number of Mets with ugly Citi Field numbers -- a .249/.297/.415 slashline last season and only seven home runs in Flushing. His monster home runs may have made it look like he relished hitting in Citi Field. He didn't.

That said, Byrd is a good defender and he's well liked by Mets management. And he can hit, though to what degree 2012 is repeatable, we don't know.

The key to understand with Byrd is this: In an ideal world, he's the second-best bat the team adds this winter. If he's the best, that would be a reason to be nervous about the Mets 2014 hopes.

6. Nelson Cruz, RF Cruz strikes us as Byrd like with comparable strikeout/walk numbers and little more power, though how much of that power was enhanced by PEDS is a good subject for discussion.

The risk with Cruz is that the expectation in getting him would be that he'd be a 30-homer guy. But given the difficulties of right-handers hitting for power in Citi Field (see our Marlon Byrd note), we'd take the under. We put Byrd ahead of Cruz because Byrd is more of a known player at this point and a better defender.

7. Jhonny Peralta, SS We stacked the two Biogenesis players together, as the concerns with Peralta would be similar to those of Cruz: Can he replicate his past performance without PEDs? That said, there is a big drop-off after Peralta on the shortstop market (the next-best option might be Nick Punto).

If you're wondering why we rated Drew ahead of Peralta, there are a few reasons:

a) Drew's left-handed bat is needed more than Peralta's right-handed bat.

b) Drew rates better defensively.

c) Though Peralta hits more homers, Drew offsets that with an advantage by hitting doubles and triples.

d) Drew rates slightly better as a baserunner.

8. Bronson Arroyo, RHP Despite an astronomical home-run rate, Arroyo is a survivor and a winner, mainly because he doesn't walk anyone (1.5 per 9 innings over the last two seasons). And his high-3s ERA should come down a bit given 15 to 18 starts at Citi Field instead of Great American Ball Park. He's pitched 199 innings or more nine years running, so any health concerns are minimized, and he pitched in Boston, so New York wouldn't scare him. The worry spot would be his age (36), which would likely limit how many years the Mets would offer him.

9. David Murphy, OF Murphy looms as a potential free-agent bargain. He hit only .220 with 13 home runs in 142 games with the Rangers last season, but that belies his .283/.346/.449, track record of the previous five seasons. If Murphy can fix what troubled him, he'd provide value as an outfielder in either left or right. He's one with a good glove and decent speed who can play either corner outfield spot, either as an everyday guy or in a platoon.

10. J.P. Howell, LHP The Mets left-handed specialists are currently Josh Edgin and Scott Rice and this free-agent class provides room for an upgrade. Howell is the best of a lot that includes Javier Lopez, Boone Logan and Scott Downs because he can get right-handed hitters out with a reasonable amount of success as well.