Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen has said on multiple occasions this winter that upgrading and stablizing center field is a priority for him when building next year's roster.
The Giants, Mariners, Rockies, Rangers and White Sox have all reportedly been looking for a new center fielder as well.
The overall market for everyday outfielders, especially up the middle, has been weak.
It's always possible Van Wagenen chooses to add a corner outfielder and return to using a combination of last year's rotation in and out of center field. However, if he's looking to make a new addition, he'll likely have to choose from one of the four options...
Van Wagenen expressed interest in the 31-year-old, right-handed hitting Pollock when speaking to reporters during early December's MLB Winter Meetings.
"A.J. fits us really well," he explained. "He's a guy that we have been in touch with his agent. ... I will continue to have dialogue."
However, I'm told the Mets quickly learned that Pollock is holding firm on asking for a six- or seven-year, nine-figure contract. I know no one in baseball that believes he will get such a lucrative and long-term contract.
This is almost certainly why recent reports indicate Van Wagenen has soured on Pollock, though I bet the the GM regains interest if the commitment reduces and the Mets continue to have a need in center field.
The Mets have spoken with Jones, who is 33 years old.
In November, multiple MLB insiders predicted to me that Jones would eventually sign for less than Andrew McCutchen, who the Phillies recently inked to three-year, $50 million deal with a fourth-year option.
As a result, the same insiders expect Jones will eventually agree to a two- or three-year deal paying him between $10-13 million each season.
I realize Jones should no longer be playing center field and now best suited in the corner. However, between him, Juan Lagares, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, the Mets would have four guys able to play all three outfield positions and all with experience in center field. I'm certain Callaway and Van Wagenen's analytics team can figure out a day-by-day configuration that works for everyone involved.
More importantly, though, Jones is the exact type of veteran, professional hitter and leader who would benefit this specific Mets roster at this specific time. Plus, despite being 33 years old, he has played at least 139 games each of the past nine seasons, which is a lot more than I can say for most people currently on Callaway's roster.
Similar to Jones, the middle of the free agent market includes Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson, Jon Jay, Cameron Maybin, Gerardo Parra and Denard Span, all of whom would need to split time around the outfield to justify being on the roster.
The trade market
The Rays have talked to teams about center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who signed an extension last winter that will pay him $43 million the next four years.
He had four terrific seasons to begin his career, but struggled in 2018, hitting well below his career batting average and had fewer than than half his typical totals for extra base hits.
That said, the collective projections on FanGraphs.com have him producing just under 3.0 WAR next season, which would be roughly the same projected production from Pollock and more than anyone else mentioned in this post.
The problem is that his trade value is low from where it would have been one year ago. So, because of the lack of better options on the free agent market, my hunch is Tampa will keep him, use him and hope for a bounce back season.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have been pushing Kevin Pillar on front offices that are known to value defense in center field, which may or may not include the Mets. Pillar is a counterproductive hitter, but he's so good in the field that he nets out as a positive.
Pillar, 29, is arbitration eligible the next two seasons, during which he'll likely earn a total of around $14 million. He can be a free agent after 2020.
In addition to Pillar and Kiermaier, reported trade candidates also include Keon Broxton, and Michael Taylor, as well as Jacoby Ellsbury and Dexter Fowler, both of whom have expensive contracts weighing down the chance they get dealt.
Unless the Mets can move Todd Frazier and his salary in a deal for one of the above, I'd just as soon sign Jones and keep Frazier.
Lagares, 29, has been in the Mets organization since being signed in 2006. He started hot and healthy during his first two seasons starting in 2013, he won a Gold Glove in 2014, but has struggled to perform and stay healthy ever since signing a four-year contract that covered his first year of free agency.
The now-veteran center fielder has not played 100 games in a season since 2015. His 2018 season ended in May when needing surgery to repair a complete tear of the plantar plate in his big toe. He had surgery on his thumb the prior year. Even during his Gold Glove season in 2014 he went under the knife when after spending time on the DL with a strained right hamstring and a right intercostal strain, he needed surgery to correct a hyperextended right elbow, which ended his season during September.
He remains a talented center field with potential to be elite. However, Van Wagenen repeatedly said he wants to eliminate from the roster all of the "Ifs," and Lagares is the poster boy for that category. This is probably why, according to MLB.com's Anthony DiComo, the Mets have been shopping Lagares, which would also help shed the one year and $9 million left on his salary.
At this point, given his poor durability, Lagares can only be counted on to be a fourth outfielder, always available to come in to upgrade the late game defense. Otherwise, despite having a ton of potential and still an incredible glove, he just can't be counted on to man center field on a regular basis.
What would I do?
Ideally, the Mets trade Frazier, sign Bryce Harper and live with Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo splitting time in left and center field.
If that can't happen, though, I'd work to trade Lagares, free up money and roster space and sign Pollock once his price drops as it inevitably will do.
If I neither of the above can happen, I'd keep Lagares and sign Jones.
Jones, Lagares, Conforto and Nimmo is not the most settled or productive outfield in the league. Also, the foursome clearly has risks, adds - and does not eliminate - question marks from the roster, and it probably means Van Wagenen has to somehow add offense at third. But, I genuinely believe a motivated Jones (much like McCutchen when traded last summer) will be better on both sides of the ball than people expect. And, just as important, I know his leadership and class will have a significant, positive impact on the overall roster, which is young and needing strong, respected, veteran leadership.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!