I think so.
Taken by itself, Angel Pagan's 2009 performance is MORE than enough to justify handing him a starting job in 2010. He hit .306/.350/.487, with 11 triples and 6 home runs in only 343 at bats. He struck out only 56 times and stole 14 bases compared to 7 caught. He is only 27 years old, entering his prime, and he is not yet a free agent. He played excellent defense, and is well-known for being the most athletic Met.
Is that enough to justify handing him the keys? His track record has been spotty.
After an unspectacular minor league career, we lost Pagan to the Cubs in 2006. He hit .247/.306/.394 in 170 at-bats -- about in line with his previously middling minor league performance. In 2007, he about replicated that performance, hitting .264/.306/.439 over 148 at-bats. As we all know by now, the Mets then traded with the Cubs to reacquire Pagan before the 2008 season.
In 2008, Pagan started looking like a different player. After almost 2500 at bats in the minors, was something starting to click for him? Although his OPS was only 720 as a Met that season, his OBP increased to .346 and he impressed the team with his speed.
I'm a big fan of Pagan. I enjoyed watching him play at the start of 2008. I appreciated his gutsy catch in Los Angeles on May 7th where he hurt his shoulder. I respected the fact that he didn't seem to complain or gripe when the Mets called his injury a "bruise" instead of acknowledging a bigger issue which required surgery(1). But even I didn't see this season's breakout performance coming.
We know he hit well. But as for his fielding, the metrics seem to love him. In 2009, his UZR/150 was 26.8 in left field and 45.7 in right field. According to fangraphs.com, his fielding was 5.5 runs above replacement, even though he only played 88 games. Along with his hitting, in free agent dollars, he was the equivalent of a $12 million dollar player(2).
So the stats *do* match the perception. He makes hard plays look routine with his speed and instincts.
But can he keep it up? I imagine that is the million dollar question. I doubt many people see Pagan as an option, but I also think that not many people realize just how good he was this season. I think if people knew that by hitting .306 and playing excellent defense he provided almost as much value as Jason Bay did, they would think differently(3). And he's NOT A FREE AGENT YET, so he's cheap.
I think that acquiring a bat is going to be the big talking point of the offseason -- the question of where is more important. As for me, I'd MUCH rather have Angel Pagan be an every day player than Daniel Murphy.
I don't think it's crazy to expect Angel to be able to hit .280/.340/.460 this year at least (which would be a 37 point drop from his 2009 OPS). If he did, he'd be good enough to have the job, no doubt about it. I think he can do that, or even match what he was able to do last season.
It is probably true that a LF is going to be easier to acquire than a 1B, but as we progress in this offseason, it's going to be exceptionally important for the Mets to recognize what they've already got. It'll be interesting to see what everyone else thinks(4).
(1) I guess one could argue whether being a good "organizational soldier" is a good thing or not when your organization is as dysfunctional as the Mets. But my compliment to Pagan centers more on his willingness to be a team player, do his rehab, and get back on the field as soon as he can without rocking the boat. I respect that.
(2) For reference, David Wright, who played all season, was only a $15 million dollar player).
(3) Jason Bay, with his 36 home runs but an UZR/150 of -8.7, ended up 34 runs above replacement, for a value of $15.3 million)
(4) Metsblog.com had a poll today about Pagan, giving three options. Here are the results:
# He is an every-day player, so long as the team acquires another big-time bat for the lineup. (54%, 1,985 Votes)
# He is not an every-day player, period, end of story. (32%, 1,169 Votes)
# He can start every-day, regardless of the players around him. (14%, 499 Votes)
That's 86% which thinks Pagan isn't good enough to start right now.