The New York Mets have a tough decision to make. What to do with Michael Conforto when Michael Cuddyer returns from injury.
By Ernie DeFalco
Adam Rubin of ESPN reported that Michael Cuddyer is set to return to the New York Mets lineup possible as soon as tonight against the Colorado Rockies. Normally, a player returning from a DL stint is great news, met with much excitement.
This time, however, the Mets are faced with a dilemma. That dilemma? What to do with rookie left fielder Micheal Conforto.
It is no secret Michael Cuddyer, the Mets biggest free agent acquisition, has disappointed at the plate this season hitting .250 with just eight home runs. Therefore some believe putting him directly into the Mets starting lineup should not be guaranteed and Conforto should stay with the club and start in left field. Realistically Met fans should not be so quick to write Cuddyer off. His veteran presence in the clubhouse has value. In addition his role in the post deadline Mets lineup will be different. He will not be relied on to be the guy, he will be relied on to be a guy. A guy capable of hitting .270 and hitting five to ten home runs the rest of the way. Because of the improvement in the Mets lineup Cuddyer is in the unique position where he can be more productive without necessarily being more productive.
So where does that leave Conforto? No way should Conforto stick around just to sit on the bench. That makes zero sense. So the one option is to send him down. He has options, meaning he can be sent down without waivers. He will get to play every day and continue to improve. He will not be down long as the rosters will expand in 21 days anyway.
Another option is a platoon situation. Cuddyer against lefties and Conforto against righties. But platooning maybe more difficult on Conforto as his chance to play would be limited.
Don’t like either of those? Well how about a better plan. Rather than sending him down, and rather than a platoon situation. How about a plan that uses both, as starters, everyday. It is possible. A bit risky, but possible.
So how can the Mets use both? Start Cuddyer at third base. In 2005 he played 95 games at third base. OK it has been ten years since then and he has played there sparingly since, but it would not be a new position for him. Coincidentally the Mets currently have a huge void at the third base position. Juan Uribe is a nice glove and has nice power, but he is not an everyday player. Using Cuddyer at third would allow Conforto the opportunity play every day and hit in the seven hole. That is a pretty decent seven hitter.
Conforto’s numbers do not leap off the page hitting only .222. Numbers aside it seems pretty obvious the kid is a player. His on base percentage seems low at .322 but it is 100 points higher than his average. Often that is a good indicator of a strong offensive talent who understands the strike zone. He has also shown he can hit to all fields. A lot of 22 year olds struggle with each of those skills. The Met’s should continue to let him play and learn in the midst of a playoff race. Don’t let this decision come down to “getting a young kid enough at bats.” There are plenty of at bats available in the Mets lineup. Leave the kid alone, let him grow and improve at this level in a playoff atmosphere. Then when the playoffs come, if his role is bench player great, if more even better since that would mean he produced quite well down the stretch.
Bottom line. The Mets always seem to want to protect their young players. But when you look around Major League Baseball teams like the Cardinals always seem to have a 20 something year old rookie playing an important role in the lineup down the stretch. The Braves have done it for years, the A’s and the Pirates and many others. It is time for the Mets to let a kid spread his wings and fly. While he is at it, he will be learning to perform on the biggest stage of all under the biggest spotlight of all. An MLB pennant race and more.
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