Monday, February 21, 2005

Digging in the Corners

Cliff Floyd and Mike Cameron have been dangled so often they belong in a bait and tackle shop. That is, if the media and Metropolitan fan base count for anything. As for the Met front office, I really can’t say. One can be pretty sure that Floyd and Cameron have been mentioned in some trade scenarios, but it’s impossible to judge Omar Minaya’s true interest in jettisoning one or both of them. The amateur G.M.’s, however, – both in the press and in the public – have been working overtime to clean out the corners of the Met outfield. The reasons usually boil down to these:

Cliff Floyd is an injury prone loose cannon.
Mike Cameron strikes out too much, has lost value as a corner outfielder, and will be an unhappy camper playing a new position.

Let’s take each case individually. Cliff Floyd is indeed injury prone. Yeah, you had noticed that already, hadn’t you? As for the loose cannon part, that’s a bit of an overstatement isn’t it? Yes, Cliff occasionally lapses into brutal honesty when a microphone is shoved in his face. Perhaps he could be more circumspect when speaking to the press. But a loose cannon? A bad guy in the clubhouse? No way. Cliffy is a good guy who speaks his mind. The early trade rumors had the big lefty headed to Chicago as part of a Sammy Sosa trade. With that no longer a possibility, the rumor mongers have decided that Texas would be a good destination for Floyd. In these fantasy trades the Mets usually receive Kevin Mench or Laynce Nix. Both of these guys are interesting, but I wouldn’t trade Floyd for either. On this Met team Floyd could be a vital bat in the lineup. First of all, he’s a lefty slugger and the only one on the team. This means that he will be strategically placed in the lineup to break up Mike Piazza and David Wright. Secondly, he is a bona fide run producer. He posts high on base and slugging percentages consistently. As for his propensity for injuries, this Met team is constructed to withstand his absence from the lineup. If Cliffy plays his Met average of 110 games again this season, I believe that Victor Diaz and Eric Valent can provide capable production in his place. My hope, of course, is that Floyd finally gives the Mets a full season of .360 on base percentage and .500 slugging. A very fair projection for a full season of Floyd would be 25 home runs and 90 RBI’s. And if Cliff suffers through another injury plagued season, I would expect the Diaz/Valent combo to come very close to those numbers. The bottom line, then, is that the Mets actually have the luxury of keeping Cliff and hoping for the best on the health front.

This takes us to Cameron. The anti-Cameronites point to his high strike out totals. Yes, Mike strikes out a great deal. That’s a stat that just has never bothered me too much. Some very good players strike out a lot. The list includes Carlos Delgado, Derek Jeter, and Adam Dunne. For the most part, an out is an out. The same critics who want to ride Cameron out of town on a rail are theorizing trades that include people like Preston Wilson and Willy Mo Pena. What are these guys, Tony Gwynn disciples? You can’t criticize Cameron for striking out too much and then propose trades for whiff kings like Wilson and Pena. As for Mike losing value as a corner outfielder, that has some truth according to principles of economics. Very few centerfielders have Cameron’s power, but many rightfielders do. But this is more than compensated for by Beltran’s presence in center. And again, the players who would come back have no more power than Cameron. Does anyone honestly think that Eric Byrnes would hit 30 home runs as a Met? Jason Lane has been a highly thought of prospect for years, but he’s 28 now and has never played a full major league season. Could he provide the kind of power that Cameron does? Well, it’s possible, but why trade a known quantity for an unknown? As for Cameron’s unhappiness playing a new position, I think it’s a non-factor. I certainly wish he would stop grousing and focus on playing his new position as well as his salary dictates that he should. But I don’t think it will affect his play.

I have not seen one trade rumor involving Floyd or Cameron that makes sense for the Mets. None of the usual suspects – Byrnes, Pena, Lane, Mench, Nix – excite me. The optional idea of trading one of our corner guys for relief help is even more unattractive to me. Good major league corner outfielders are more valuable than all but the most elite relief pitchers, and by that I mean upper tier closers. Is Octavio Dotel one of these? Possibly. Yet I’m still not sold on the idea that he would help the Mets more than Cameron.

Floyd and Cameron give the Mets a pretty formidable corner outfield pair. In the National League East, only the Phillies can boast a better pairing. And that’s only because their rightfielder is Bobby Abreu, an elite player. Overall, I would think that the Met corners are a top ten major league pair. It’s also important to factor in Victor Diaz and Eric Valent. These two are a good insurance policy for Floyd, potentially providing as much production as the Byrnes/Mench types. So my advice to Met fans is to sit tight and enjoy what could be a very productive outfield trio. Does anyone doubt that these are very realistic projections:

Floyd .285 BA .360 OBP 25 HR’s 90 RBI’s

Cameron .245 BA .340 OBP 25 HR’s 90 RBI’s

Beltran .280 BA .360 OBP 30 HR’s 110 RBI’s

For a team that recently went to a World Series with an outfield of Benny Agbayani, Jay Payton, and Derek Bell, those are pretty heady numbers. Throw in about 80 stolen bases and excellent defense and you have one of the top outfields in baseball. Why mess with it?


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