Currently the Mets outfield is made up of two players in the teams long term plans, Curtis Granderson and Juan Lagares. The third outfield position is manned by a make it or break it platoon of Matt den Dekker and Eric Campbell. The issue with this arrangement is that the Mets lack offense and they currently have two positions, the third outfield position and shortstop, from which they cannot say they will reliably get offensive production.
This begs the question; what is the future of the Mets outfield? The answer is fairly complex and multi-faceted.
The “future” of the Mets outfield sits in their minor league system. Brandon Nimmo decimated high-A ball while playing at St. Lucie and received a much earned promotion to Binghamton. After starting slowly, Nimmo has played solidly, batting .255 with a 789 OPS and, most importantly, a 172 ISO, the highest of his short minor league career. This is all while maintaining a high walk rate and a less than 20% strike out rate. Basically, the 21 year old outfielder, while playing against competition over three and a half years older than him, has shown improvement. This season’s number one draft pick, Michael Conforto, has torn through Brooklyn, posting a .338 AVG and an 858 OPS over his first 37 games as a professional. The hope for Mets fans has to be two fold; that Conforto moves through the system as fast as the Mets think he can and that Nimmo, who will probably start at Double-A again next year, will continue to show improvement and be ready to start the 2016 season in the Mets outfield. On top of the big two, Travis Taijeron, Dustin Lawley and Champ Stuart are all players that could impact the Mets in 2016 (Lawley and Taijeron) and beyond (Stuart).
However, this is where the answer to the above question shows its complications as 2016 is a year and a half away, with 2015 in between. The only minor leaguer that could have potentially made an impact at the major league level next year would have been Cesar Puello, but his struggles at Triple-A make it more likely that he could impact the team late in the season, if he goes back to Las Vegas in 2015 and picks up where he left off in Binghamton in 2013. Taijeron and Lawley are also in that group, as they will most definitely begin 2015 in Triple-A, but need to impress to get a promotion, which again wouldn’t happen until later in the season. Nimmo could also be included in that group, but he has to improve his numbers in Double-A and show he can handle a midseason promotion to Triple-A first.
This is where den Dekker comes in. The hope amongst the Mets has to be that den Dekker shows that he can at least be part of a platoon over this try out period. So far though, den Dekker has not stepped up. His walk rate is higher than it was and his strike out rate is lower, but that has not turned itself into offense yet. If den Dekker continues to produce the way he has so far, the 2015 Mets outfield picture becomes a lot cloudier, especially when one looks at the incumbents.
Granderson has struggled this year, but the Mets have to hope that he can be a lot closer to the May through the end of July Granderson than the April and August through September Granderson. With 45 million committed to Granderson over the next three seasons, he is part of the outfield whether the Mets want to or not. Lagares continues to show improvement, but what is he really? He’s gotten hurt both seasons he’s been with the Mets and he continues to be a hitter overly reliant on a high BABIP. Can Lagares add 10 to 15 home runs to his arsenal? Is he a player that the Mets can consistently say will hit around .280 or is he a totally uncertain commodity whose free swinging ways will eventually lead him to being no more than a terrific fielding number eight hitter?
Considering those questions, the other outfield situation becomes that much more problematic. Campbell has been a nice story this year and has most likely earned himself a spot on the team next year, but to think he’s anything more than a super sub capable of spot starting, pinch hitting and being an all-around terrific bench player is unfair. With den Dekker’s less than stellar start to his try out and no minor leaguers ready to step in to become the guy who takes on the left field responsibilities for 2015, the Mets are more than likely going to have to look outside of the organization for the answer to this conundrum.
But what could that answer be? The free agent market is not ripe for the picking. The best two outfielders on it are probably Nelson Cruz and Melky Cabrera, but both are going to want multi-year deals and both have significant flaws. Cruz, despite huge numbers, has been pitiful since the end of May and even worse in the second half of the year. He also only plays about half his games in the outfield and is 34 years old. Cabrera is a terrible outfielder who seems to be at his best in contract years. Let’s also not forget that both have been suspended in the past for performance enhancing drugs.
The trade market is just as dry. Carlos Gonzalez is probably undergoing knee surgery, taking him off the market. The Red Sox might have outfielders available, but that’s debatable as the moves they made seem to be geared to getting back into competitive baseball next season, which makes a dump job by them that much less likely. All of this basically leaves the Dodgers as the best trade market option for an outfielder, but dreams of Joc Pederson or Yasiel Puig need to be wiped away from the Mets fans subconscious. Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier are much more realistic options. Ethier hasn’t been good in several years plus he’s owed a lot of money, so there’s no way the Mets would make a move for him. Kemp would be an interesting move to make, as he’s healthy, if diminished. However, he’s owed 107 million dollars over the next five years and even if the Dodgers were to pay half of that to move him, can a player with multiple surgically repaired limbs be truly relied upon for that length of time? Not to mention that getting the Dodgers to foot 50 million dollars of that money is going to cost the Mets big time in prospects.
An interesting option could be Michael Cuddyer, who’s a free agent this offseason. He’s a buddy of David Wright and could probably be had on a short term deal, but he’s also another injury risk who hasn’t been able to play a full season since his 2010 year with the Minnesota Twins. He will also be 36 years old next season and has only played in 34 games this season.
Considering the options out there, the Mets brain trust has to be hoping against hope that den Dekker finds his way over these last 29 games and shows enough that left field does not have to be a priority this offseason. That will allow the Mets to throw their resources at short stop and hope that such an addition at that position, along with continued improvement by Travis d’Arnaud and Lagares, rebound years from Wright and Granderson and the new found power of Lucas Duda can put the Mets into contention in 2015, while awaiting the development of some of those young outfielders.
If den Dekker continues to flame out, the Mets are in a tight spot as it will be impossible to argue that left field doesn’t need to be made into a priority. The offseason options for improving shortstop both defensively and offensively are far more intriguing and this team will be much more willing to pay what is necessary to get that done if they can put off the left field issue for 2016. Let’s all hope den Dekker steps up, because that will give us a much more brighter future in both the outfield and in all of our hopes for contention in 2015 and beyond.