Decisions loom regarding Yoenis Céspedes and Jay Bruce, as there are a bounty of possibilities for the 2016 New York Mets outfielders.
The New York Mets currently have possession of these Major League outfielders: Yoenis Céspedes, Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Juan Lagares, Michael Conforto, and Brandon Nimmo.
That’s six players, all of whom deserve a fighting shot at a starting job, and only two (Lagares, Nimmo) can play center field competently on a consistent basis. The team’s faux center fielders (Céspedes, Granderson, and Conforto have all made the attempt) simply can’t hold down the most range-demanding position on the field.
And of course, the Mets have some decisions to make entering the offseason:
1. Céspedes’ opt out: Assuming the 31-year old exercises his opt out clause, which is a painfully obvious call, the Mets will either have to join and out-pay the fray of Céspedes chasers or walk away. One thing is certain: if the Mets choose the latter, a lineup that already has its flaws will lose its savings grace.
2. Bruce’s club option: At one point, when the Mets traded for Bruce, exercising the lefty’s $13 million option seemed like a no brainer. Now, after an uninspiring half-season in Queens, and given the Mets’ outfield jam, there is reason to doubt New York will pick up the option.
3. Changing gloves: Can a lefty like Michael Conforto or Jay Bruce handle first base? James Loney is set to hit free agency and Lucas Duda is far from a sure thing, an experiment could yield worthy results for New York.
Now let’s try and hash it all out. In center field, the Mets shouldn’t think twice about deploying a Nimmo-Lagares platoon. Terry Collins’ club will benefit from a defensive boost and each player won’t be exposed to same-handed pitching. Nimmo and Lagares taking the center field burden, will allow the Mets to employ their best defensive options.
By winter’s end, both Yoenis Céspedes and Jay Bruce cannot be on the Mets’ roster. The combined price could total north of $40 million for next season, and the presence of both clogs the emergence of an effective center field platoon, as such a situation would force Collins to utilize Curtis Granderson in center.
Instead, the Mets should blitz the Céspedes market—before it even takes shape. Because once it does, Sandy Alderson will be involved in a bidding war not worth his while. With Céspedes’ liking for New York understood, Alderson and company can leverage Céspedes in exclusive player-club negotiations. At that point, the Mets will have to put over $100 million on the table, and commit to five years or so to Céspedes.
On the Bruce front, the Mets should exercise the 29-year old’s option, and then work to flip him. On the heels of a 33 home run season, in a contract year, and on an affordable deal, he looks plenty attractive to outfield dire teams.
Céspedes in and Bruce out means Curtis Granderson will comfortably return to right field.
To answer question number three, trying Conforto at first is appealing given his smooth defense and left handed bat, but the Mets must invest in his future, which most reasonably lies in the outfield. So, either keep him swinging a hot bat in Vegas or play him in the big league outfield if an injury should arise. In whatever case, Curtis Granderson will hit free agency next November, and Conforto will slide into a mainstay role for 2018 and beyond.
After its needed trimming, the Mets’ outfield will sport Céspedes, Nimmo-Lagares, and Granderson from left to right, with the need for a left-handed bench bat in play. Here, Aledandro de Aza or Kelly Johnson fit the bill. Michael Conforto will be ready at a moment’s notice.
Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is an outfield.