Out there in the outfield, the Mets have a lot OF question marks

This collage features Mets outfielders Mike Baxter, left,

This collage features Mets outfielders Mike Baxter, left, Jordany Valdespin, center, and Marlon Byrd during spring training 2013. (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa )

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.

Consider where each of them spent last season, long before circumstance brought them here, where it's easy to wonder if they'll make the wrong kind of history together.

Of the five players expected to comprise this year's Mets outfield, two wound up doing stints in the minor leagues (Lucas Duda and Colin Cowgill).

One of them spent the year irking teammates with his erratic behavior (Jordany Valdespin).

Another spent time on the shelf after sacrificing his body to preserve Johan Santana's historic moment (Mike Baxter).

And yet another failed to hit his weight with two different teams before getting sent home to serve a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs (Marlon Byrd).

"What outfield?" general manager Sandy Alderson quipped during the offseason, when it already was clear that the Mets needed plenty of help.

But none arrived, leaving the Mets to mash together a few spare parts with what they already had on hand. The result is a group that might flirt with infamy.

"Worst outfield in baseball," one talent evaluator said after filtering through the names.

Perhaps not since the team's pre-1969 incompetence have the Mets fielded an outfield so woefully lacking in potential. The picture looks even more bleak when compared to the other outfields in the National League East. Even the lowly Marlins possess one potential All-Star in Giancarlo Stanton -- more than can be said about the Mets.

"That's OK," Duda said. "You've got to respect people's opinions, and I do. But I think we're good. We're going to be fine out there. I think we're going to do well. I think we're going to surprise people."

The feeble state of the outfield has been a phenomenon at least two years in the making. Perhaps no other part of the Mets' roster exemplifies the sometimes painful transition that has taken place at Citi Field.

As recently as two years ago, the Mets boasted an outfield of Jason Bay, Angel Pagan and Carlos Beltran, an alignment that at the very least featured recognizable names. But the deconstruction began promptly upon the hiring of Alderson, who sent the team's efforts to revamp the roster into overdrive.

The Mets sent Beltran to the Giants in the deal that netted top pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. They also dealt Pagan away in exchange for another centerfielder, Andres Torres, who never replicated any success he had in San Francisco. By season's end last year, Bay had been reduced to the league's most highly compensated pinch runner. In the winter, the Mets paid dearly for an early divorce.

What remained was the undistinguished collection the Mets bring to New York Monday for Opening Day, a group that has left fans pondering whether they have ever seen such a woeful outfield. Even here, at the bitter end of camp, the team is undecided about who plays where.

"Embrace it," Byrd said of the unflattering perception. "We have no reason for anyone to believe different. We have to produce to make everyone believe differently."

Of course, that task might be far easier said than done. According to one statistical projection system, the five players expected to man the Mets' outfield are expected to produce an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of just .696. For perspective, if the projection proves accurate, the 2013 outfield will be one of only 11 in team history to finish with a sub-.700 OPS.

The picture is just as bleak when seen through the filter of another metric, wins above replacement, which attempts to measure defense, baserunning and offense in one all-encompassing number. Under these projections, this year's Mets outfield would rank among the bottom 10 in franchise history.

Each member of the outfield brings a significant doubt, from Duda's ability to cover enough ground to play leftfield to Byrd's ability to deliver his first productive big-league season since 2011. Nevertheless, members of the outfield believe they are capable of exceeding expectations.

"We've just got to go out there and play our game," said Cowgill, the 5-9 centerfielder who has been squeezed out of outfields in Oakland and Arizona. "It doesn't mean we all have to go out and hit .300 with 30 home runs. We just go out there and compete, play hard and play to win."

To a man, the Mets' outfielders have heard the chatter. They have heard the characterizations. They understand the comparisons, though they dismiss them all.

"It's kind of hard not to see it somewhere," Duda said. "But that's OK. That's you guys' opinions, that's fans' opinions. I respect it, but it's not my opinion. I think we're good.

"And although some people may say that we're not, or that we're not as good as we should be, I think we're going to be good out there."

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