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Carlos Gonzalez to New York Mets Would Be Flashy, but Wrong Trade Splash

What the New York Mets really needed this Christmas week was a center fielder who could also hit in the middle of the lineup.

What they got was Alejandro De Aza.

He's not a middle-of-the-order hitter, and he may not really be a center fielder, but at least he didn't cost much ($5.75 million, as reported Tuesday by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports). If it's a mistake, at least it's not a big one.

No, a big mistake would be trading for Carlos Gonzalez.

CarGo can hit in the middle of anyone's batting order. He hit 24 of his 40 home runs at Coors Field in 2015, but he also hit two of the most impressive Citi Field homers of the season. He's 30 years old, he's exciting...and he's not a center fielder.

You can't have everything, but in this case the Mets are better off with nothing—or with Alejandro De Aza.

The Mets have Curtis Granderson in right field (and no, he can't play center field, either). They want to—and need to—keep left field open for Michael Conforto, who showed down the stretch and in the postseason that he's ready to contribute as an everyday player.

So just as re-signing Yoenis Cespedes doesn't make sense for them because he'd be such a liability in center field, trading for Gonzalez wouldn't be the right move, either. CarGo has played 200 games in center, but none since 2011. The Colorado Rockies briefly considered moving him from left field to center three years ago, but abandoned the plan before even trying it.

According to someone involved in the decision, the team felt Gonzalez had gotten too big to move well in the position, and would also put himself at greater risk of injury if he played there.

And that was three years ago.

It's understandable that some Mets fans and some in the New York media want to see the team make a bigger splash than De Aza in the outfield. With Cespedes and Daniel Murphy both leaving as free agents, the Mets lost both their No. 3 and cleanup hitters, and haven't really replaced either bat.

John Harper of the New York Daily News has made the point that the Mets have an unusual opportunity because their elite rotation is so young, and therefore so inexpensive. If the Mets owners really have any money, this is the time to spend it on the big bat(s) they need (and if they don't have any money, why are they still running a New York team?).

It's easy to put this on the Wilpons, who made themselves a target with their below-market payrolls. It's especially easy to put it on them when the Mets suggest through "sources" that they'd be interested in signing Cespedes if the price comes down (as they did in this story by Kristie Ackert of the Daily News).

But you can't buy what isn't there, and what the Mets really needed this winter just isn't there.

They got by playing Cespedes in center field on a limited basis after acquiring him from the Detroit Tigers at the July 31 deadline. They even used him with some regularity in left field, because as a rookie Conforto didn't start against left-handed pitchers.

Forcing Cespedes into a full-time, long-term role as a center fielder would make less sense, and acquiring Gonzalez with the idea of playing him in center would make even less sense than that. CarGo has had problems staying on the field even as a corner outfielder—before playing 153 games in 2015, he averaged just 110 a year for the previous four seasons—so even if he could handle the position defensively, he might not handle it physically.

He'll make sense somewhere, and Patrick Saunders of the Denver Post wrote over the weekend about possibilities from Cleveland to Tampa Bay to Baltimore. The Rockies have reportedly been asking for a lot in return, as they should.

Last month, ESPN.com's Jim Bowden suggested the Mets, proposing a deal for pitcher Zack Wheeler and outfielder Brandon Nimmo. The idea was that the $37 million remaining on Gonzalez's contract (for two years) would fit the Mets' budget better than spending on one of the free-agent outfielders (Cespedes or Justin Upton, for example), and that the Mets were already willing to trade Wheeler in a proposed deal last July for Carlos Gomez.

Trading from the Mets' deep stable of pitchers to get a needed mid-order bat isn't crazy, but the guy they get has to fit. With Granderson and Conforto set at the corner outfield spots and with the Mets somewhat committed to Lucas Duda at first base and heavily committed (financially) to David Wright at third base, the fit has to be in the middle of the infield or in center field.

Unfortunately for the Mets, this wasn't a great winter to shop for middle infielders or center fielders. Unfortunately for the Mets, Yoenis Cespedes isn't really a center fielder, and Carlos Gonzalez isn't one, either.

Save the money, save the trade chips, let the rotation keep you in the race, hope the young hitters like Conforto and Travis d'Arnaud develop and hope there's more available in July—or next winter. Right now, making the wrong move would be a bigger mistake than making none (or than signing Alejandro De Aza).

 

Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

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