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Bringing back Hairston would prove beneficial

NEW YORK -- This was never a strong market for outfielders. So it was always a bad market for the Mets, who entered this winter needing outfielders more than anything.

Now roughly two-thirds of baseball's offseason has gone by without the Mets making any major additions to their outfield. They may have imported Collin Cowgill via trade and inked Andrew Brown to a Minor League contract, but their core of Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter -- an unproven, if not wholly uncertain starting alignment -- remains in place.

Meanwhile, what little top talent did exist on the free-agent market has all but vanished. Every top-tier outfielder with the exception of Michael Bourn, who is out of the Mets' price range, has already found a new home. Most mid-tier outfielders have as well. So when considering his own outfield situation earlier this week, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said that he may wind up doing nothing at all.

"You're right that the free-agent market for outfielders has shrunk," Alderson said. "The inventory of free-agent outfielders is low."

There is, however, one answer left that makes a whole lot of sense for the Mets. Scott Hairston, one of the most desirable right-handed bats on this year's market from the start, is still available, and reportedly has listed the Mets as one of his personal finalists.

Re-signing Hairston would do more than give the Mets another 20-homer threat in the middle of their lineup. It would allow them to platoon Duda in left field if he continues struggling against lefties, spell Baxter in right if the life of an everyday player wears him down, or even sub if center, if necessary. No matter the combination, Hairston would start every game against opposing left-handed pitchers.

Problem is, Hairston seeks a two-year contract and sees himself as more than an everyday player. That's only fair. After providing premier right-handed pop on a below-market $1.1 million deal last year, Hairston should make four or five times that per season going forward.

Statistically speaking, it can be a tough sell. While Hairston has established himself as one of the premier pinch-hitters and lefty mashers in the big leagues, he has struggled consistently against right-handed pitching throughout his career. Even last year, during one of his finest runs as a player, he hit only .239 with a .281 on-base percentage and a .457 slugging mark against righties.

Compare that to his work against left-handers: a .286 average, .317 on-base percentage and .550 slugging mark. So with significantly more right-handed pitchers than lefties in the league, increased playing time would make it difficult for Hairston to maintain his rates of production.

But Hairston craves additional at-bats, saying in September that, "Wherever I wind up next year, I just want to have an expanded role."

"It's just one of those things where I really don't know what's going to happen," Hairston said. "I'm just going to prepare myself this offseason as if I'll be playing every day."

For Hairston, the main allure of returning to Flushing is the opportunity to play every day, compared to a less prominent role for a contender such as the Yankees. There is also the comfort of setting up shop in the same place he has called home for two consecutive seasons.

But the numbers are what they are and the match, for both sides, comes down to more than simple dollars and cents. Whether it's the best match remains to be seen, even if the Mets have few other options.

New York Mets, Scott Hairston