Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mets, Granderson agree to four-year deal

NEW YORK -- Starved for outfield production and home run power, the Mets addressed both needs on Friday by landing Curtis Granderson with a four-year, $60 million contract.

Multiple sources confirmed on Friday that Granderson will receive the richest free-agent deal general manager Sandy Alderson has given out since joining the Mets in 2010. The team has not commented on the deal, which is pending a physical.

"With the way things may work out in the outfield, our lineup's looking better and better all the time," Alderson said in a telephone interview, declining to acknowledge the unofficial deal.

Granderson, 32, hit .229 with seven homers last season in a campaign largely decimated by injuries. A fractured right forearm and fractured left pinkie, each the product of hit-by-pitches, limited him to 61 games.

Prior to that, Granderson spent two seasons as one of the league's most prodigious power hitters, averaging 42 homers and 152 games. Thanks in part to Yankee Stadium's short right-field porch, Granderson's 84 home runs from 2011-12 increased his average annual output to 29 since becoming a full-time player in 2005. His pace of one home run every 14 at-bats ranked third in baseball over that span.

Compare that to the Mets, who ranked 25th in MLB in home runs last year and 28th in outfielders' slugging percentage.

Along the way, Granderson developed a reputation as a positive clubhouse presence and leader, deeply involved in team charity efforts as well as his own foundation. When Granderson traveled to Lakeland, Fla., for his first spring game against the Tigers after being traded to the Yankees late in 2009, former manager Jim Leyland called him one of "the finest gentlemen I've ever managed … class all the way."

Yet between the lines, Granderson's game does have warts. He is a career .261 hitter with extreme platoon splits: a .274/.357/.519 slash line against right-handed pitching, compared to .226/.295/.409 against lefties.

Once a dangerous basestealer who swiped a career-high 26 bags in 27 tries in 2007, Granderson has stolen a combined 18 bases over the past two seasons.

Those trends, along with Granderson's age and Citi Field's dimensions, make a four-year deal a risk. But with multiple sizeable contracts no longer bogging down their payroll, the Mets were committed to making a splash after mostly standing pat for three straight winters.

"It's great to say we have financial flexibility and then blow it on players' deals that don't work out, and put yourself right back in the same situation you were before," Alderson said earlier this offseason. "At the same time, at some point you've got to go for it. Having flexibility is great, but at some point you've got to put yourself on the line."

The Mets are certainly doing so with Granderson, considering Alderson's previous most expensive deal was the two-year, $12 million pact that reliever Frank Francisco signed two winters ago. In terms of average annual value, Chris Young's recent one-year, $7.25 million deal was the richest. (Those figures do not count third baseman David Wright's eight-year, $138 million deal, which Wright signed while still under contract with the Mets.)

First meeting Granderson over a salmon dinner last Sunday night in California, Alderson began negotiating seriously on Wednesday, according to sources. Two days later, the result was the largest deal the Mets have given to any free agent since Jason Bay, who inked a four-year, $66 million contract prior to the 2010 season.

The Mets can only hope this deal works out better than that one, and have reason to believe it will. Along with Young and Juan Lagares, Granderson gives the Mets a starting outfield composed entirely of natural center fielders. Enamored with how their outfield played in the second half of last season, the Mets now boast one of the league's best outfield defenses on paper.

Beyond Granderson's production, the signing also frees the Mets to be flexible in their other Hot Stove pursuits. Granderson's lefty power makes first basemen Ike Davis and Lucas Duda even more dispensable in potential trades for a shortstop or pitcher. With Eric Young Jr. defaulting back to a bench role, the Mets could also shift Young to his natural position of second base and deal Daniel Murphy-- possibilities that Alderson will keep in mind next week at the Winter Meetings.

"We'll entertain anything," the GM said. "It doesn't mean we'll act on everything. The nice thing is that with hopefully a couple players signed, we can entertain a lot of different combinations, and at the same time not feel like we absolutely have to act on one of them."

The Mets remain in need of at least one starting pitcher and a veteran reliever, and ideally would like to upgrade their shortstop position as well.

"What we have is a more aggressive agenda," Alderson said. "We can be aggressively looking for things, but we don't have to absolutely do something.

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