This edition of Fair or Foul examines the following post by Toby Hyde of MetsMinorLeagueBlog who says that demoting struggling outfielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis was a mistake. As usual, here is part of what his post, followed by my own thoughts. Remember to read his full post by clicking the link above.
Sunday, the Mets optioned OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis to AAA Buffalo to replace him with Mike Baxter. This is a mistake. The team is keeping no fewer than four players inferior to Nieuwenhuis on the active big leaguer roster….Nieuwenhuis, strikeouts and woes against lefties and all, is a better option in the big leagues in 2012 than Baxter or Valdespin. The only viable explanation for sending him to AAA now is developmental. However, expecting production on both sides of the ball, from Valdespin and Baxter, that exceeds what Nieuwenhuis can provide is not reasonable. Nieuwenhuis has a far better chance to contribute to the next Mets playoff team than Baxter, Torres and Bay. The last two months obscure this fact, but Nieuwenhuis has a chance to be part of the future.
Nieuwenhuis needs the exposure to big league pitching. In his last tour of duty in Buffalo, he beat up International League pitching at a .298/.403/.505 rate in 2011.
While the bullpen draws much of fan ire around the 2012 Mets, the outfield’s woes are nearly as severe. As a unit, the team’s outfield is 22nd overall in wRC+ and 29th in UZR. Put simply, it’s a bad offensive unit, and one of the worst defensive groupings. Removing Duda will improve the outfield defense moving forward. Removing Nieuwenhuis will not solve any problems and does not move the Mets appreciably forward to their next playoff team.
To begin, regardless of whether you think demoting Kirk was a good idea, I believe it’s undeniably an upgrade when his replacement is Mike Baxter. And while it’s difficult for me to make heads or tails of some of the advanced metrics Toby cites to prove his case, my eyes tell me that Baxter is a far more advanced hitter than Kirk. Baxter strikes out less, walks more, has a greater percentage of extra-base hits and has a considerably higher rate of driving in runs.
Baxter may not have Kirk’s defensive prowess, but that alone is not a good enough reason not to make the switch.
I get the sense that Hyde sees Kirk as a player who has nothing left to prove in the minors. I strongly disagree. Kirk was leading the team with 98 strikeouts, and with a full compliment of 600 plate appearances he would have eclipsed 200 K’s. That’s unacceptable, especially from a player with a .376 slugging percentage. Baxter incidentally was producing a .523 slugging before he got injured. Unsustainable for sure, but radically better than Kirk’s even if he were to lose 100 points.
Andres Torres being cut to make room for Baxter at the expense of keeping Kirk on the roster sounds tempting, but it is still a bad idea. Believe me, I’m no fan of Torres, but he does give Terry Collins a speed option when he needs it, and he can be relied on for solid defense. But the biggest case for keeping Andres Torres, is his splits against left-handed pitching against whom he’s posted a .294/.423/.412 slash in 85 at-bats. The Mets could ill afford to lose his bat in the lineup against southpaws.
Jason Bay is not going to get cut, and considering that as an option means you haven’t been paying attention this season to what Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins say about him. He’s as useless as an air conditioner in an igloo, but he’s also a fixture on the active roster if not the everyday lineup, and that won’t change until next spring at the earliest.
We don’t know what we have yet in Kirk. All he has proven is that he can rake at Triple-A, but not so much in the majors. The same could be said about Val Pascucci. Kirk’s destiny lies in his own hands. He needs to change his approach which is far too aggressive. If he doesn’t, than you are looking at a classic AAAA player and the Mets have too many of those types on their roster already.