5:12 pm Dec. 24, 2012
The New York Mets, at the moment, don't have a whole lot to offer to free agents.
For players seeking a winning team, the 2013 Mets aren't a great bet, having traded their best pitcher, R.A. Dickey, from a roster that produced just 74 wins last season for a package of players unlikely to help the team until 2014 or later.
And unlike virtually every other team in baseball, the Mets have yet to sign a major league free agent to address gaping holes in the outfield, the bullpen, a rotation spot left vacant by Dickey's departure, or depth anywhere on the team.
But it's that very lack of depth that appears to be giving the Mets the inside track on Scott Hairston.
Hairston, according to ESPN's Wallace Matthews, would prefer to return to the Mets, where he'd almost certainly have an everyday role. Other teams, including the Yankees, want Hairston, but to play against lefties only.
This dynamic reflects the relative strengths and weaknesses not only of the Mets, but Hairston as well.
Hairston, 32, has a career .825 O.P.S. against left-handed pitching. That is more than sufficient for a corner outfield spot. Against righties, however, he is at .704, which is not starter-caliber.
For the Mets, though, it may be. The other outfield options right now are primarily left-handed, but don't be fooled; they aren't righty-mashers the way Hairston is a lefty-killer.
There's Kirk Nieuwenhuis, with a .740 O.P.S. against righties in 241 career plate appearances. (He's .515 against lefties.) There's Lucas Duda, coming off of a .745 O.P.S. season against righties, .662 against lefties, though his .805 career mark against righties is more encouraging. Same with Mike Baxter, at .810 career against righties, a putrid .295 in very limited time against lefties. And recently acquired Collin Cowgill is the lone righty option, hitting .784 against lefties, .514 against righties.
So adding Hairston into this mix would very nearly give the Mets a possibly competent set of offensive outfielders. Against righties, they could deploy Duda, Nieuwenhuis and Baxter. Against lefties, Hairston, Cowgill and ... someone left-handed who will probably be a black hole offensively.
That doesn't take into account defense, of course. But it's the scenario that makes any baseball sense at all, given the limited players on hand.
However, that isn't how the Mets appear likely to land Hairston. Again, his preference in coming back to the Mets is precisely so he can play every day. The marketplace also dictates that Hairston will get at least a two-year deal, if not three years, given the three-year, $26 million contract Cody Ross just signed with the Diamondbacks, and the two-year, $10 million pact Boston agreed to with Jonny Gomes earlier this offseason.
The Mets hold one other advantage over the Yankees, at least; the Yankees are self-imposing financial restraint in 2014 of the kind that reduces their advantage over the Mets, who are in a long-term fiscal emergency, in that one season. It won't stop the Yankees from a frontloaded offer, however.
So the Mets can either use most of their offseason budget to sign a platoon outfielder to play every day, or rotate Collin Cowgill as a possible platoon partner for three other outfielders who need it.
Neither option is close to ideal. But the guiding principle of the Mets, as they assemble their 2013 team, is to make the best of very difficult circumstances. Hairston, it seems, is it.