There are several ripple effects contingent upon Hairston’s fate. If he opens the season on the DL, that opens a spot for a righty-hitting backup outfielder, with Vinny Rottino the closest to fitting that profile. It also means the lefty-hitting outfielder would need to be able to back up Andres Torres in center field, with Adam Loewen and Mike Baxter the candidates. Baxter recently told Collins he was capable of playing center field, after saying to Collins upon his promotion last year he did not feel comfortable there.
I’m not doubting Rubin’s reporting here: It seems eminently possible the Mets are looking for a righty-hitting backup outfielder to replace the injured Hairston. But (and one more time) if that’s true, I wonder why.
Carrying Hairston when he’s healthy makes sense because he mashes lefties off the bench and can capably play all three outfield positions. But the Mets also have righty-hitting Justin Turner slated for a backup role. Turner’s not Hairston at the plate, but his Minor League numbers compare favorably to Rottino’s, plus he’s younger and has a year of not embarrassing himself at the Major League level under his belt.
Chances are, given the prevalence of right-handers in bullpens (and everywhere), the Mets will have a lot more pinch-hitting opportunities with the platoon advantange for lefty hitters than for righties. So if Rottino doesn’t distinguish himself from Adam Loewen and Mike Baxter, why carry him just to be the right-handed-hitting backup outfielder when it’s not a position with much function?
Switch-hitting Andres Torres has been much better against righties than lefties the past couple of years, so if the righty-hitting backup outfielder could play center he’d get some use there. Hairston can, giving him even more value to the Mets. Rottino has played only in corners and behind the plate this spring and in recent seasons in the Minors.
Lefty-hitting Lucas Duda was better against righties than lefties last year. But Duda is 26 and possibly a part of the Mets’ future, so it figures the team will want him playing near every day. A righty-hitting backup outfielder would allow Terry Collins to give Duda some days off against tough lefties, though.
Over in left field, Jason Bay showed a massive platoon split in 2011 — a .918 OPS against lefties and .629 against righties. If that continues and the Mets want to win as many games as possible, they’d be best-served giving Bay plenty of days off against tough righties. Carrying a second lefty-hitting bench bat would allow them to spell Bay and still have a lefty on the bench for pinch-hitting opportunities.
This might be a new low for me: Not just fretting about the 25th spot on the Mets’ roster, but fretting about a 25th spot on the Mets’ roster that might not even exist. If Hairston comes back, none of this means anything.
For now, if Hairston needs to start the season on the DL and no one else enters the Mets’ outfield mix, it looks like it breaks down like this:
Keeping Rottino and Baxter/Loewen means:
– A lefty to spell Bay and a righty to spell Duda.
– One guy who can back up Andres Torres in center.
– One lefty bat on the bench, unless he’s spelling Bay.
– A third catcher (Rottino).
Keeping Loewen and Baxter means:
– Two lefties who could spell Bay but no righty to spell Duda.
– Two guys who can back up Andres Torres in center.
– Always having at least one lefty bat on the bench.
– Justin Turner as the primary righty pinch-hitter.
– Guaranteed presence of Adam Loewen’s beard.
A lot of it likely boils down to how much the Mets’ value the flexibility added by the third catcher. But since the Mets already have Turner on the bench and it seems eminently likely he’s a better hitter than Rottino, it doesn’t seem to make sense to carry a righty to replace Hairston just for the sake of his handedness.
In other words — the words of Parliament, specifically — if it don’t fit, don’t force it.