It was a few days before my 18th birthday in May of 2007 when I went to a Mets-Cubs matinee game. Donning my Oliver Perez jersey (who was pitching that day), I watched as a young Cubs outfielder named Angel Pagan stepped to the plate. With seats right behind the home dugout, it was then I first witnessed up close what coaches and scouts call a “whip-like” swing when Pagan took Perez deep for a two-run homer.
Moving away from the game (which the Mets won dramatically with a 5-run ninth inning), I want to take a minute to appreciate Angel Pagan, who never gets enough love (especially from his own team). Pagan, who will turn twenty-nine years old in July, was originally drafted by the Mets out of Puerto Rico and was re-acquired in 2008 after previously being dealt to the Cubs. Angel is off to a tremendous start this year. He’s hitting .291/.358/.424 for a .350 wOBA and 117 wRC+ after racking up 2.9 WAR in 2009. Combine those offensive numbers with a UZR/150 of 13.6 in center field (after a 13.8 mark playing all outfield spots last season) and you get 1.4 WAR thus far for Pagan, tied with David Wright for the team lead among hitters. Considering that Pagan was acquired for peanuts and makes that as a salary as well, he’s turned into quite the asset for the Mets.
You see, when Carlos Beltran comes back, there will be an outfield log jam. If Beltran can play center field, he will form a productive tandem in center with Angel Pagan that should have the position covered. That leaves right field for Frenchy and Chris Carter. The easy answer is to release Gary Matthews Jr and leave Carter as the backup, but what’s the right answer? (Let’s just leave the question of what happens if Beltran can’t play center aside for now.)
Like a Supreme Court justice, I’ll dissent in part and concur in part. I agree that Chris Carter should see more playing time and that Jeff Francoeur and Gary Matthews Jr. should have their time limited (if not eliminated). However, instead of platooning both center and right field, I think it’d be optimal for the Mets to bench Francoeur for good and put Carlos Beltran in right field. Beltran will be coming off serious knee issues and declined defensively last year. The Mets can mitigate his stress back in the outfield by putting him in right, leaving Pagan in center, and of course having Jason Bay in left field. Chris Carter and Jeff Francoeur can sit on the bench, and Gary Matthews Jr. can go home and buy really cool stuff with his tens of millions of dollars.
Pagan’s a valuable player and the Mets currently have a right fielder who has been worth -0.1 WAR and has a wOBA of .282. Let’s not penalize good players for playing well and vice versa. It’s time Pagan was appreciated.