The last time I wrote, I spoke of the Mets’ desperate need to find another non-moribund option for their corner outfield woes. I think I have found him.
It’s Reed Johnson, former fourth-outfielder from the Toronto Blue Jays, who was just released the other day in order to make room for Shannon Stewart.
First off, consider what the team’s 25-man roster will look like.
Knowing their history, the Mets will take 12 pitchers up to New York. That leaves 13 spots for hitters. Down the line, here’s where I would guess those spots are going:
- Brian Schneider (C)
- One of Ramon Castro/Raul Casanova (C)
- Carlos Delgado (1B)
- Luis Castillo (2B)
- Ruben Gotay (IF)
- Damion Easley (IF/OF)
- Jose Reyes (SS)
- David Wright (3B)
- Endy Chavez (OF)
- Carlos Beltran (CF)
- Ryan Church (RF)
- Marlon Anderson (PH extraordinaire)
Disregarding Angel Pagan’s excellent spring, I like Reed Johnson as an option a lot.
So, why Johnson?
1. He’s right-handed.
1. Jose Reyes (S)
2. Luis Castillo (S)
3. David Wright (R)
4. Carlos Beltran (S)
5. Carlos Delgado (L)
6. Ryan Church (L)
7. Endy Chavez (L) / Angel Pagan (S)
8. Brian Schneider (L)
Check out the bottom half of that lineup. Essentially, it’s poison, because it’s both not very good, and it’s entirely left-handed. It’s a dead zone, where lefty one-out guys can become lefty-eighth inning guys.
I’m just not sold on Angel Pagan, even with a good spring. And even if it makes more sense to keep him than Endy Chavez, I don’t think Angel Pagan is good enough to justify discarding Endy Chavez’s $3.85 million contract over the next two years. Sunk costs are one thing, but they did just sign that contract two months ago for some reason, and it’s good to live up to your agreements, at least at first. Moreover, you would have to pay Pagan an additional sum to play in Chavez’s stead. It’s not worth doing, given their expected role, without a really good reason.
So the Mets need a right-handed bat. While Reed Johnson is not a superstar, he can hit a bit, particularly against lefties. In over 700 career at bats against lefties, he is a .308/.371/.462 hitter.
Assuming that Alou logs his 300-400 plate appearances this year, Johnson can fit in as a potential platoon partner for Ryan Church down the line. Church should be given every chance to hit lefties, but if he falters, Johnson is a solid option as a replacement.
2. He’s excellent defensively.
Here’s what Reed Johnson did in left field according to zone rating over the past three years, and where he ranked in the majors among qualifiers.
2005: .914 (ranked #1/18)
2006: .887 (ranked #3/20)
2007: .919 (ranked #2/17)
Johnson didn’t log enough innings to make ESPN.com’s leaderboards during the past two seasons, so he is being inserted in those ranks. Zone rating considers him an excellent defender. If you prefer traditional scouting reports, Johnson “covers a lot of territory in the outfield and willingly sacrifices his body, and his arm strength is better than he is sometimes given credit.”
In other words, Johnson can field really well. He’s an asset, there.
What’s more, outfield defense is key for a team with a bunch of flyball pitchers on the starting staff. Check out these ground ball/fly ball ratios from 2007 (the league average is usually around 1.2).
John Maine - 0.87
Oliver Perez - 0.70
Pedro Martinez - 0.73 (0.85 back in 2006)
Johan Santana - 0.92
Orlando Hernandez - 0.79
Reed Johnson’s a perfect fit for that group.
3. He’s a perfect fit on the bench when the team is healthy.
Again, we’re back on this lefty-heavy thing. Marlon Anderson, pinch hitter extraordinaire, is left-handed. The team could use another right-handed bat off the bench to supplement Easley, in that capacity. Again, Reed Johnson fits. In their 2007 annual, Baseball Prospectus commented that his “contact-hitting ability lends itself well to pinch hitting.” In this sense, he can serve as a good foil to Anderson, providing some level of immunity from left-handed relievers.
4. He is no longer employed.
This is important. My list that I created last week posted mainly players that the Mets needed to trade for, and the Mets’ pantry of trade chips is rather barren these days. I strained and came up with Ruben Gotay as the key, but he’s not much of a match for a lot of teams.
Perhaps I’m just straining to find a new Xavier Nady type: a versatile, under-the-radar righty corner OF bat. And perhaps his herniated disc from last season will affect his playing time and his performance. But Johnson’s a versatile, useful player with some distinct and valuable skills. The Mets have some needs. Johnson addresses them. If Johnson is a risk, he’s one well worth taking.
And if four or five teams approach Reed Johnson with a six-figure contract, I doubt that the Mets’ pitch can be topped.
“Mr. Johnson, we want you to start in left field for us on Opening Day. We are often considered the favorite to win the National League, thanks to adding the best pitcher in baseball to a staff that already included the last decade’s best pitcher in baseball. You have logged over 2,300 plate appearances across your career, and you’re now 31 years old. You have also never played in the playoffs. We can change that.”
I think the Mets can sign Reed Johnson, and I think he can help out. I would love to see him batting seventh on March 31st.