|Pagan has dropped the ball|
The team is still debating whether to cut ties with its center fielder.
If they decide to proceed without him, the Mets could shop Pagan and, if that fails, nontender him. In that scenario, which has been a solid possibility since midsummer, the Mets will likely seek a strong fielder - and an affordable one.
Team insiders - While noting that Pagan might still return, have not shot down the notion, and point out that Ankiel, the free agent who earned $1.5 million last season with the Washington Nationals, might be precisely the type of short-term replacement for Pagan that the Mets are seeking.
The difference in salary between Pagan, 30, and an alternative such as Ankiel is key. The Mets are trying to cut payroll by about $30 million, a project that requires trimming around many edges. Pagan is talented and enjoyed a breakout year in 2010, but will likely be awarded about $5 million in salary arbitration this winter.
Ankiel, 32, batted .239 last season, with a .296 on-base percentage and a cannon arm in the outfield. The offensive numbers are far from quality, but Pagan’s on-base percentage was just .322, he pursued fly balls in circuitous fashion and lobbed them toward the infield, all while alienating his manager and many teammates with what they perceived as a sour disposition.
Several times last season Terry Collins tried to connect with Pagan, calling him into the office and asking why he was sulking. A positive clubhouse presence the year before, Pagan seem troubled by his dip in performance in 2011. Although he enjoyed a far better season at the plate than Ankiel did, some Mets officials strongly believe that Pagan will not be a good fit next year.
Ankiel, of course, would bring his own heavy baggage. A onetime St. Louis pitching phenom who lost his ability to throw strikes, Ankiel remade himself as an outfielder. His return to the Cardinals seemed like a fairy tale - until the Daily News reported in 2007 that Ankiel had received a 12-month supply of human growth hormone in 2004, linking him to a national illegal-prescription, drug-distribution operation.
If the Mets ultimately pass on him, there is a dearth of center fielders available who would be a fit for them. With former Indian Grady Sizemore likely to inspire a bidding war that lifts him a notch above the bargain basement, the Mets could look at Athletics free agent Coco Crisp. Reports out of the West Coast, however, suggest that Crisp wants to remain there.
Tampa Bay might trade or nontender B.J. Upton, who would require a more significant investment than Pagan, Ankiel and other nontender candidates.
Free Agent Center fielders
Rick Ankiel (32)
Willie Bloomquist (34)
Mike Cameron (39)
Endy Chavez (34)
Coco Crisp (32)
Scott Hairston (32)
Andruw Jones (35)
Nate McLouth (30)
Corey Patterson (32)
Grady Sizemore (29)
Dewayne Wise (34)