By Mike Steffanos
I understand the justification for the Mets signing Moises Alou, which many news sources are reporting as imminent. I actually think it makes sense to sign a solid veteran stopgap player while the Mets wait for their kids to come up, and think Alou will fit in well with this team. I just can't help but think, however, that this team is becoming a very old team very quickly with the probable addition of Alou to complement last week's signing of the 37-year-old Damion Easley along with the re-signings of Orlando Hernandez and Jose Valentin. Unless the Mets plan to deal Shawn Green, they're going to field two starting corner outfielders who aren't going to cover much ground. Carlos Beltran would do well to incorporate as many sprints as possible into his offseason training regimen.
Still, it seems obvious that the Mets have soured on Lastings Milledge and are now waiting for Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez to come along. Given that, with respect to those of you who felt differently, I never saw handing out a long, huge contract to the often indifferent Alfonso Soriano or the ever-expanding Carlos Lee as particularly sensible. Although a position player on the wrong side of 40 is always somewhat of a risk, Alou is still a productive major league hitter who will balance this lineup considerably. In Endy Chavez and Ben Johnson, the Mets have two solid backups who will play better defense. If Johnson pans out, the Mets will have a right-handed hitting backup outfielder with a little pop, something they lacked in 2006.
I just can't help but regret that, as a Class-A free agent, Alou will cost the Mets a first-round pick in next year's draft. If the Mets also sign Barry Zito, they will be without a first or second round pick. For a team that hopes to become less dependent on the expensive free agent market by improving their farm system, the continued lack of top picks handicaps them somewhat. They'll have to do a much better job in identifying and nurturing later-round prospects than they have in recent years if they ever hope to accomplish this. Their track record going back the past few drafts is actually quite poor in this area.
Since the Mets don't feature a staff of power pitchers, I think the Alou/Green corner outfield combo will cost them some runs. John Maine is a flyball pitcher who pitches to contact, and Zito has a high flyball rate, too, if he winds up pitching in Shea next season. Still, that offense should score more than enough to make up for that -- if Alou can stay relatively healthy. Indeed, signing Alou would represent somewhat of a coup for Minaya, who would be able to plug a hole with a pretty solid player without breaking the bank for years to come. Still, I can't help but hope for a day where a hole like this is plugged from within the Mets own system.