- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Right now, the New York Mets' website lists their starting outfield as Lucas Duda in left field, Kirk Nieuwenhuis in center and Mike Baxter in right. Not exactly Mooke, Lenny and Darryl, let alone Upton, Upton and Heyward or Harper, Span and Werth. You can see why the Mets may be interested in Michael Bourn. The conflict there is the Mets own the 11th pick in the draft -- but only the top 10 are protected, so the Mets would lose that first-round pick if they sign Bourn.
Last year, the Mets' outfield accumulated 4.1 WAR via FanGraphs -- 29th in the majors, just ahead of the Astros. Now, some of that responsibility fell to Jason Bay (.165 in 215 plate appearances), but Duda was the biggest negative, primarily thanks to his terrible defense in right field. Duda is really a first baseman, except he doesn't really hit like a first baseman, not with a .239/.329/.389 line.
Niewenhuis flashed some potential but with 98 strikeouts in 314 plate appearances, he'll need to improve his contact rate to become anything more than a fourth outfielder. Baxter is a journeyman/4-A type of player and at 28 isn't going to get better. He'll take a few walks but won't give you the power you want from a right fielder. Collin Cowgill and Jordany Valdespin are also hanging around. As you can guess, there isn't a lot of upside here.
Even worse, the two most productive Mets' outfielders from 2012 are gone. Scott Hairston provided power in a part-time role and Andres Torres at least played decent defense in center. Could this end up being a historically awful outfield?
Over the last 10 seasons, FanGraphs rates the 2004 Royals as the worst, with a cumulative -2.2 WAR. That group featured Carlos Beltran for half a season and a rookie David DeJesus, who was about a league average hitter in 413 PAs. Matt Stairs played a lot out there and hit OK but killed them defensively and Dee Brown and Abraham Nunez each had more than 200 PAs with OBPs around .300. Juan Gonzalez even played a few games out there. That's past-his-prime Juan Gone. Certainly a pretty uninspiring group, especially after Beltran was jettisoned off to Houston.
The second-worst outfield is a bit of a surprise: The 2005 Yankees, with Hideki Matsui, Bernie Williams and Gary Sheffield, at -2.2 WAR. Bernie didn't hit but the other two did and collectively the Yankee outfield had a wRC+ of 101, so it was about a league average group offensively. But FanGraphs rates those three as -70 runs on defense and others who filled in (Tony Womack, Bubba Crosby, Ruben Sierra) as another -27. Defensive Runs Saved isn't quite as harsh with a collective -65 runs, but it was clearly one of the worst defensive outfields ever assembled. The Yankees managed to win 95 games anyway.
Third worst on the FanGraphs list is the 2007 White Sox, which ... well, it was a terrible group, with Scott Podsednik and Rob Mackowiak in left; Jerry Owens, Darin Erstad and Luis Terrero each starting at least 24 games in center; and Jermaine Dye (-27 Defensive Runs Saved) in right. Dye didn't even hit much that year, with a .317 OBP.
If we're talking strictly offense, the group with lowest wRC+ is the 2011 Mariners (the 2012 Astros being next-lowest), which no surprise to Mariners fans reading this. Mariners outfielders hit .235 with a .285 OBP. That's bad for a glove-first shortstop let alone an entire outfield.
The Mets' outfield won't be that bad. But I don't see the point in signing Bourn and losing that first-round pick. The Nationals and Braves have built powerhouse franchises for 2013 and beyond. The Mets aren't likely to sniff the playoffs this year, even the second wild card. Maybe by 2014 or 2015 they can contend around a great rotation as Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler mature, but how productive will Bourn still be in two or three years? There's no doubt Bourn would help some of those young starters race down some mistakes in center, but at what cost? Considering his age, strikeout rate and a game built around speed, if Bourn loses a couple steps the decline could be rapid.
While I can understand the rationale in signing Bourn to improve the defense, unless you can get him at a steep discount (less than what the Braves paid B.J. Upton, for example), I say pass.