Monday, December 21, 2015

Why the Mets should pursue Gerardo Parra

by John Vittas (@JohnVittas3)

While many Mets fans are clamoring for the return of Yoenis Cespedes, let's not kid ourselves - it's probably not going to happen. As nice as it would be to have him in the cleanup spot for 162 games, that's not the Mets philosophy, which Joel Sherman so astutely laid out in this article. They're going for depth, trying to put together a roster of 13 proven, versatile Major League position players.
Between the Michael Cuddyer retirement and the team not signing Cespedes or Ben Zobrist, it stands to reason that the Flushing front office has payroll to play with, leaving them a variety of mid-tier free agent options to fill holes in the outfield and bullpen.

Juan Lagares has struggled against right-handed pitching
throughout his career.
(Photo: Jim McIsaac)
Let me be clear, I am a Juan Lagares believer. I think he's a tremendous athlete with a sustainable, line-drive swing plane that will produce a .280 average for the next 10 years. I also think Michael Conforto has a slump-proof swing and will bat .300 with 25 homers this year. So if it were up to me, I'd run them out there 162 times and drop free agent money on a better fifth starter (there's just so many this year, might as well get one for insurance) and the back end of the bullpen. 
But the Mets insist that they need a left-handed hitting platoon partner for Lagares, and when you look at his splits, you can understand why:

Juan Lagares     AVG / OBP / SLG (OPS)
2015 vs LHP       .273 / .333 / .438  (.771)
2015 vs RHP       .253 / .271 / .328  (.599)
Career vs LHP     .279 / .325 / .427  (.753)
Career vs RHP     .254 / .286 / .340  (.627)

Fortunately there are some affordable options in this year's free agent class.

Ideally, the Mets are looking for an outfielder who (1) handles right-handed pitching, (2) can play a capable defensive center field and (3) can play all three outfield positions.
Looking at the list of free agent outfielders, five players fit this description and played at a league-average level or better in 2015:

Denard Span, Gerardo Parra, Alejandro De Aza, Chris Denorfia, Will Venable

The problem with De Aza is that he's only played 17 games in center field over the past two seasons. In that span, he's suited up for four different teams, which means none of them thought he could play the position adequately.
Denard Span only managed to play 61 games in 2015.
(Photo: Mitchell Layton)
This logic can also be applied to Chris Denorfia, who played only 19 games in center across three different teams over the past two years. It can also be argued that his bounceback numbers in 2015 are the result of being in a stacked lineup in a hitter's park like Wrigley Field. If he ends up in Flushing, he'll be hitting in a similar environment to Petco Park and Safeco Field, where he posted an alarmingly low .602 OPS (on-base plus slugging %) in 2014.
Venable has been on a consistent decline over the past few years and let's face it, the Mets aren't looking for maybes. They went for Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker because they are as close to sure-things as you can get.
That premise would also eliminate Denard Span, who the Mets will reportedly be scouting during a private workout next month. While Span's speed, defense and track record could be appealing to the Mets' decision makers, the team is in the middle of their winning window. Is it worth it to count on a guy who could hardly stay on the field in 2015? Span battled constant core issues and a major hip injury, only managing to play 61 games this past season. While that may make him more affordable, do you want your biggest signing of the offseason to be an ailing, 32-year-old? I wouldn't.
That leads us to Gerardo Parra - who I attest will be the best option for New York to pursue.
Most importantly, his splits mirror Lagares', as Parra has always had much more success against righties:

Gerardo Parra       AVG / OBP / SLG  (OPS)
Career vs RHP        .289 / .335 / .432  (.767)
Career vs LHP        .232 / .296 / .302  (.597)

2015 vs RHP           .303 / .336 / .473  (.809)
2015 vs LHP           .238 / .296 / .362  (.658)

Presumably, almost all of his at bats in 2015 would be against right-handed pitching, so it isn't unreasonable to assume Parra will post an OPS around .800, which would be higher than Daniel Murphy's .770 mark from 2015. It's also significantly higher than .716, which is the mark set by Mets' centerfielders in 2015 (don't forget, Cespedes is included in that), and 200 points higher than the 2016 alternative of .599, which is what Juan Lagares posted against right-handers last year.

In addition to being the perfect compliment to Lagares, Parra checks the boxes that the other free agent options do not:

(1) Durability - Unlike Span, Parra has played at least 133 games each of the past six seasons.

Gerardo Parra only struck out 92 times in 155 games in 2015
(Photo: Mitchell Layton)
(2) Park Proof - Unlike Denorfia, Parra has thrived offensively in spacious outfields similar to Citi Field. He's a line-drive hitter who likes to find the gaps and leg out triples (he's hit 37 in his seven-year career) and could attack the right-center field gap at Citi Field, similar to what Jose Reyes and Angel Pagan did from 2009-2011.
His OPS figures in stadiums with massive outfields almost always out-perform his career baseline:

Career (988 Games): .730 OPS(On-Base plus Slugging %)
Sun Life Stadium/Marlins Park (15 Games): .866 OPS
Citi Field (21 Games): .844 OPS
Chase Field (385 Games): .768 OPS
Dodger Stadium (52 Games): .747 OPS
AT&T Park (48 Games): .738 OPS
Coors Field (48 Games): .725 OPS

(3) Versatility - Unlike De Aza, Parra has played 186 Major League games in center field, including 41 in 2015. He's not the defensive player that Juan Lagares or Denard Span is, but Parra's defensive metrics are similar across all three outfield positions, meaning you're not losing anything by putting him in center. Also, Parra has played over 350 games in each corner outfield spot and has more range than Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson, meaning he could serve as a valuable defensive replacement in games when he doesn't start. In other words, against lefties, the Mets would have one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball.

(4) Trending Up - Unlike Venable, Parra is just entering his prime. He posted career highs in home runs, slugging percentage, total bases, RBI and runs in 2015. His OPS of .780 was his second highest mark in seven MLB seasons, and would have ranked third amongst Mets players with at least 300 plate appearances in 2015. His 14 stolen bases would have led the team.

Sounds pretty good, right? The only conceivable knock on Parra could be his cost. After all, he's only 28 years old and you can be sure his agent is making a similar case to the one you just read.
But considering the market and who Parra is competing against (Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Justin Upton, Dexter Fowler, etc), it's reasonable to think he could end up being a bargain. If the premiere players are struggling to get what they want this late in the offseason, what makes you think a complimentary player like Parra is going to get what he's looking for? If Cespedes, Gordon and Upton are begging for $100 million offers, it's not off-base to estimate that something like a three year contract for no more than $40 million could be enough to land Parra.

I get it, $13 million a year for a part-time player sounds absurd, but think about how much stronger it makes the roster. The Mets would be maximizing the performance of Lagares and Parra, and providing a capable alternative should Granderson or Conforto go down.
It's similar to the Zobrist argument - Parra's versatility make him a perfect fit on any team, whether it be the 2016-2017 Mets of Conforto/Lagares/Granderson, or the 2018-2019 Mets of Conforto/Lagares/Nimmo. He's the kind of player that fits any roster and makes your team substantially better.

So do it, New York. Go get Gerardo Parra.