By Ernie Palladino
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It’s not like Fred and Jeff Wilpon stole Christmas like a couple of Grinches. But they certainly didn’t put the one thing the fan base wanted under the tree.

Instead of that Red Ryder carbine-action, two hundred shot Range Model air rifle, Mets fans woke up to a sweater. Maybe Fred and Jeff were just concerned they’d shoot their eyes out.

Instead of “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” they wrapped up “Donkey Kong.”

Instead of Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Davis or Alex Gordon for the middle of the batting order, the owners gave them Alejandro De Aza.

De Aza isn’t really a bad gift. But he’s a sweater. Sweaters are nice. They’ll keep you warm once we get past this spring-like Christmas morning and the weather starts to make seasonal sense again.

He’s Donkey Kong. But the old Nintendo games can still provide a few minutes of fun, providing one goes into them with the right attitude.

It’s just that De Aza wasn’t what most folks had in mind as a topper to the trades for Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. The Mets didn’t exactly head to Tiffany’s for a last-minute gift like De Aza. The clearance section of K-Mart was more like it.

So they didn’t steal Christmas.

They just were cheap about it.

Still, this is a time where the spirit of Christmas should override material desires. No matter how far what’s under the tree diverges from the wish list, fans should take an optimistic outlook on this latest move because sometimes, over the long haul, the cheaper gifts wind up giving the most.

This is what the Wilpons got for their $5.75 million free-agent signing: a 31-year-old corner outfielder who will be playing out of position in a center-field platoon with Juan Lagares.

Not envisioning a repeat World Series engagement? OK, let’s try it again.

De Aza is regarded as an above-average, lefty-hitting outfielder with a .267 lifetime BA and zero power. In eight years in the majors, De Aza has but 45 homers, seven of those coming in a 2015 season split among Baltimore, Boston and San Francisco. He came up with Miami and soon moved on to the White Sox, where his average declined from 2010 to 2013.

The Mets are betting that the experience he gained in center will carry over, though he only played nine games out there last year.

He might make for a fairly steady presence in center. But the Lagares-De Aza platoon won’t give any opponent a lot to think about. Not the way the power-hitting Cespedes did the last two months of the season. Not the way Davis or Gordon might have, especially if they had shipped off the streaky Lucas Duda for a reliever and planted free-agent slugger Davis at first.

What the offense really needed was a player who made opposing pitchers think long ball every time he stepped to the plate. Instead, it got a singles hitter who has never produced more than the 62 RBIs he had with the 2013 White Sox. That also marked his only season of double-digit homers.

De Aza probably won’t hurt the Mets. But his career doesn’t hold the promise of a lot of help, either. And if he doesn’t work out, the Mets can just let him go elsewhere after the season. He’s only signed for one year.

He’s just another piece, and a rather cheap one at that.

So maybe there is no way to wrap this guy up in glittery paper and get Mets fans all excited about 2016. It’s just not in the Wilpons to splurge for Christmas, for whatever the reason.

At least they didn’t forget the holiday entirely.

They were just cheap about it.


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