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Pagan's success highlights Mets' need in center

DETROIT -- Angel Pagan stood in the center of the visiting clubhouse at Comerica Park, his road Giants jersey drenched in champagne, his hair a slick black mess. Less than an hour earlier, his team had won the World Series, shooting his own rocky career to new heights. But Pagan was reflecting back on last December, the moment he learned he had been traded from the Mets.

"Right away when my agent told me San Francisco, I knew that I was going to a contending team," he said. "To me, when I was with the Mets, I thought we had a great team and we had a good chance to make it, but we couldn't. That's just baseball. But when we came over here, I prepared the same way and we got here.

"I just have to thank every single organization that gave me the opportunity to be here. The Mets, without them, I couldn't be wearing this uniform because they drafted me as an amateur player."

More than a decade after that Draft, when the Mets dealt him to the Giants in exchange for outfielder Andres Torres and reliever Ramon Ramirez, Pagan could not have known that his season would end as a World Series winner. At the time, Pagan did not even know if he would be a starter in San Francisco, slumping both offensively and defensively throughout his final year in New York.

"I'm happy with the opportunity and a fresh start," was Pagan's outlook at the time. "I'm looking forward to getting to Spring Training and showing what I can do."

All he did was win that starting center fielder's job and hit .288 with eight home runs and 29 stolen bases during the regular season, entrenching himself as the leadoff man for San Francisco's championship run.

In New York, meanwhile, the Mets' best-case scenario was having Torres match or even exceed Pagan's levels of production, thereby allowing them to acquire Ramirez -- one of the best relievers in baseball for two years running -- effectively for free. There was reason to believe that might happen, considering Pagan's miserable 2011 campaign.

Manager Terry Collins even came to camp with a new saying -- to paraphrase: "When Andres Torres gets on base, we score runs."

Instead, it was the worst-case scenario that unfolded in Flushing. Pagan rebounded from a down year to jolt the Giants, sparking them to a second title in three years. Torres, who batted leadoff for San Francisco during its first World Series run, battled injuries and played so poorly that he lost his starting job by midsummer. And Ramirez was a complete non-factor in the bullpen.

Now, the Mets will undoubtedly non-tender Torres and let Ramirez leave via free agency, while the Giants will receive Draft compensation if they cannot re-sign Pagan, a desirable free agent. Though New York has made no definitive statement regarding Torres, it is difficult to envision the tight-budgeted Mets penciling in roughly $3 million for an unproductive outfielder.

More likely they will enter next season with a significant question mark looming over center field, where Pagan once roamed.

The Mets never intended for Torres to be the long-term solution in center; they simply hoped he could keep the position warm until prospects Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Matt den Dekker and -- eventually -- Brandon Nimmo were ready to contribute.

But uncertainty continues to surround Nieuwenhuis, who looked so overexposed at the plate last season that the Mets eventually demoted him back to the Minors, where he suffered a season-ending foot injury that cost him critical development time. Den Dekker remains raw and Nimmo is still years away, meaning the Mets have no obvious in-house candidates to replace Torres.

Rays center fielder B.J. Upton will be available on the free-agent market, but the Mets have already said they are not willing to invest that type of money in an outside player. So barring a trade, the starting job will most likely default to Nieuwenhuis, who has done little to prove his readiness for a starting big league job.

Then again, perhaps the whole situation simply craves context -- the Pagan trade, after all, is not what cost the Mets a winning season in 2012. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson won a previous deal with Giants GM Brian Sabean, acquiring super-prospect Zack Wheeler for the final two months of Carlos Beltran's 2011 contract, which should prove far more significant to the future of the Mets.

But Pagan's role in San Francisco's World Series run served to underscore the Mets' own fractured center field situation, with no obvious solution in sight.

New York Mets, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Angel Pagan, Andres Torres