With the imminent departure of Michael Brantley, the Astros will have to fill an outfield spot this offseason. Even though Jake Meyers had a bounce-back season in 2023, many fans will unfairly compare him to other options on the free-agent market. Although Jake Meyers may not be on the same level as Tucker and McCormick, he is still a valuable player for Houston and should get every day starts next year. While it will be tempting to want to replace him with a slightly better and inevitably more expensive alternative, this would be a waste of resources.
How good is Jake Meyers?
Jake Meyers was worth 1.6 bWAR in 2023 over only 341 plate appearances. Much of his value was in his defensive skills as he produced .8 War in centerfield. Although significantly improved from his injury-plagued 2022 season, his offensive production was still slightly below average. While the front office probably dreams about him improving and becoming an above-average hitter, at age 27, he has likely peaked. However, he is still a valuable player who can contribute as an everyday player.
If you cut out the 2022 season, a season in which he was too hurt to play effectively, Jake Meyers has played 161 major league games and has produced 2.8 bWAR. That is well below the production the Astros get from Tucker, and to a lesser extent McCormick, but it is still solid production for an everyday player. Many will argue that Meyers is not suited to play every day because he cannot hit righties very well; while it is true that he has an extreme platoon advantage against lefties, this should not prevent the Astros from starting him every day. In 2021 and 2023, Meyers took 27% of his plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, the traditional average is around 25%. So even though Meyers has not been strictly utilized as a platoon hitter, he has managed to perform like an everyday player.
How much would it take to replace him?
After two bad seasons at the plate, Cody Bellinger returned to form in 2023, hitting 34% above league average and producing 4.1 fWAR over 130 games. He is a free agent and a better ball player than Jake Meyers. However, the Astros would be foolish to attempt to sign him. Although it is hard to believe, Bellinger is only 28 years old and will likely command at least a six-year deal worth $150 million. Jake Meyers is cost-controlled for the next four seasons and still has one more year at the league minimum. According to a Fangraphs article by Ben Clemens in 2022, a hitter should expect to make $1.36 million per projected war in his first arb year, 2.13 in his second, and 3.59 in his third. If we assume that Meyers will average around 2 WAR over the next four years, he will make approximately $15 million over that time frame. So, over four years, Bellinger would cost the Astros $85 million more than the cheaper alternative. That is a significant financial risk, especially for a team that needs to extend many of its core players.
Bellinger is not the only free agent available. Still, if the Astros want to sign a proven everyday starting outfielder, it will likely be significantly more expensive than sticking with Meyers. Furthermore, if, after a few months, Meyers shows that he cannot be the everyday starter, then the Astros can trade for a player at the deadline. An outfield consisting of McCormick in left, Meyers in center, and Tucker in right, with Dubon as the fourth outfielder, is capable of producing and preventing runs at a well-above-average rate. Unless Jim Crane goes full Cohen and blows through the Luxury cap, money will likely be tight this offseason, and it is better for Houston to spend its finite resources on real areas of need like starting pitching or the bullpen.