Following the inclusion of Jay Bruce in the big Seattle trade, the Mets are left with four Major League outfielders under contract. The best hitter of them could miss most if not all of the upcoming season. The best fielder of the bunch is not known for his bat or durability and the other two are not exactly iron horses either. So, Brodie Van Wagenen should really be placing the same priority on an outfielder as a catcher and setup man.
Over the summer I compared Cespedes injury and surgery to Troy Tulowitzki in a blog post entitled We might not see Cespedes until 2020. Not promising. While there have been reports that our best right handed bat could return by the All-Star break, that seems awfully optimistic. The Mets need to operate as if he will miss the entire season. Our new GM speaks brashly about “win now and later” and “eliminating if’s” so clearly he doesn’t buy into that “let’s wait til so-and-so comes back” nonsense that has crushed this team’s hopes for years.
Juan Lagares is under contract and is by far our best defensive outfielder and our only true center fielder. In the brief period when he was healthy last season, his fancy retooled swing with the launch angle (you just read that in Steve Somers voice) showed promise. Problem is, Lagares, for all his tools, is the second most fragile position player on our team. To catch Travis d’Arnaud for the mantle however, he’d have to suffer a comically catastrophic off-season mishap like falling off a ski lift. If the season started today, Lagares would be our starting center fielder, which is not a reasonable plan. Ideally, he’s in a platoon with a lefty (Mallex Smith would have worked nicely) or serving as a reserve and late inning defensive replacement.
Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo, while differently skilled, have a lot in common. Both lefties are best suited to the corners where they are at least average fielders and can play center field in a pinch, but really don’t belong there. Both also have injury histories.
With Cespedes out, what is the likelihood of the other three avoiding the disabled list? In addition to trading away Bruce, the Mets also previously traded away Jose Bautista and moved on from Austin Jackson. Right now our only reserves are infielders who could play outfield in a pinch like T.J. Rivera and Dominic Smith. Travis d’Arnaud‘s name was mentioned as a possibility as well but that could be the worst idea since Lucas Duda was seen sasquatching around left field.
If the Mets need to allocate too much of available money to landing a catcher and another reliever, there are many cheaper options out there than Bryce Harper, A.J. Pollock, and Michael Brantley. Those three, along with Andrew McCutcheon and Nick Markakis are the only free agent outfielders who posted better than a 2.0 WAR last season – four guys on the wrong side of 30 and one who wants to be paid like Jeff Bezos.
For a lefty center fielder to platoon with Lagares, the Mets could look to Jon Jay, Carlos Gomez or the recently non-tendered Billy Hamilton (that sound you just heard was Brian shrieking). For a righty bat to add some balance there’s everyone’s favorite Marwin Gonzalez, who can also provide infield depth. Other options include veterans like Melky Cabrera and Adam Jones. McCutcheon is out there as well but probably not a fit. There are seemingly a million veteran lefty corner outfielders out there – Markakis, Gerardo Parra, Carlos Gonzalez, et al. and when the dust settles the Mets could pick up someone like our old friend Curtis Granderson for a song. Should either Conforto or Nimmo get injured this would become a need, so it’s nice to know there are options.