The Mets faltering August shows that the team will likely need some upgrades at several positions, notably third base and corner outfielder. Since the trading deadline has come, any significant move would have to come in the offseason. One position that looks like it will not need to be changed is center fielder.
For some years now the Mets have looked to acquire a true CF. Juan Lagares won a Gold Glove in 2014, and ever since then the club has been on a quest for an every day center fielder. Just this past offseason players like George Springer and Jackie Bradley Jr. were thought to be on the Mets radar, but both ended up elsewhere.
Meanwhile, over the past few seasons Brandon Nimmo has been seeing more and more action in center, and less in left field. Few would doubt his value at the plate, but the consensus was he was hurting the team in the field at center. That is, until this season.
So far, in 54 games, mostly in CF, Nimmo has played errorless ball. More importantly, FanGraphs DRS (defensive runs saved) metric has him in positive territory at plus four so far this season. The eye test shows he has played some great ball in the field also. His signature play this year occurred on July 10 at home against the Pirates when Bryan Reynolds smashed a long drive that had home run written all over it. Nimmo raced at full speed to the center field wall, then made a perfectly-timed leap to snag the blast as it was about to clear the fence, a classic circus catch that robbed a homer.
Nimmo has said he started tinkering with his positioning late in the 2020 season, and carried it over into this year. Specifically, he is now playing deeper than he used to in center. So far, that change has paid defensive dividends for Nimmo and the Mets. Obviously, there will be a few more singles hit in front of him that might have been outs if he was playing in more, but more importantly he is converting some drives in the gaps into outs instead of extra-base hits.
Of course, a center fielder has to be productive at the plate as well as in the field to really help his team, and Nimmo is fulfilling that part of the equation as well. His current slash line is .285/.417/.390. Nimmo is normally the leadoff hitter, and that high OBP is exactly what you want from that spot in the batting order.
Nimmo has had a few injuries that have impacted his play over the years, and 2021 is no exception. He had a detached hand ligament injury in May that sidelined him after a hot start, and more recently he missed some games by straining his hamstring making a diving catch. Like the team, Nimmo has been cold this August with a BA of just .190, with perhaps lingering effects of his hamstring contributing to that.
As to those players the Mets had been kicking the tires on last offseason, George Springer has done well for Toronto, but he is 31, an age where production is likely to fall off sooner rather than later. The Mets did offer him a generous free agent contract, but Springer preferred the Toronto deal and signed with them. As to Bradley, his slash line this year is a microscopic .176/.251/.287.
Although the Mets checked out other CF options over the years, the answer may have been in the organization the whole time. Nimmo is right near his peak at age 28, and has been providing plus defense at the critical CF position. He is a good hitter with elite on base skills, and decent power as well. The Mets extended search for a new center fielder just might be moot. Hopefully there will be no repeat of the disaster that was the early ‘70s quest to fortify third base. That action brought in Joe Foy and then Jim Fregosi to take over at third, and both were underwhelming to say the least. What hurt even more was the players shipped off to Kansas City and Anaheim to obtain them, specifically Amos Otis and Nolan Ryan.