Despite the unknown timeline for baseball’s return, the New York Mets still need to plan for how their outfield will look.
Back on Thursday, the saddening truth of baseball’s “postponement” became a reality. The league decided to cancel spring training and delay Opening Day by at least two weeks. A new start date of April 9 may be unrealistic though.
No one knows how long this hiatus will truly last. But if this league-wide suspension is indeed short-lived, the New York Mets could possess a fully healthy and log-jammed outfield for much of the season.
Conforto, who suffered a Grade 1 oblique strain on March 7, was considered “questionable” for the start of the season.
As for Cespedes, the veteran slugger was continuing to rehab from his bizarre ankle injury this spring. He was also likely to begin the 2020 campaign on the injured list.
But since MLB delayed the regular season, both Conforto and Cespedes could actually be healthy by the start date. If that occurs, then the Mets would face some tough decisions with their outfield group.
Along with Conforto and Cespedes, the 2020 Mets outfield is slated to feature Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith, and Jake Marisnick. In theory, it could be possible to keep all six on the 26-man roster to begin the season.
With three outfielders occupying bench spots, the Mets would carry room for one backup infielder along with a second catcher. While this could work, it would likely become difficult to provide equal playing time to all three outfielders.
As a result, it would be nearly impossible for any of those players to feel comfortable at the plate or in the field when having to sit in the dugout for an extended period of time. That likely means that the Mets will need to remove at least one of them from the major league roster.
But then you’re in a difficult spot. Which player should be moved? And where would that player be sent?
Since Nimmo and Conforto are key players, it’s safe to say that neither of them will be roster subtractions. Based on Marisnick’s stellar defense along with the fact that he has no minor-league options, it appears that he’s also safe for now.
So that leaves Smith, Davis, and Cespedes as the candidates who might not begin the regular season with the Mets. Furthermore, none of these players are flexible defensively. Each of them can only play in left field for the most part.
With both Smith and Cespedes spending time on the injured list in 2019, Davis took over as the Mets’ full-time left fielder. In 140 games, he produced 22 home runs, 57 RBI’s, a .220 ISO, .355 BABIP, .373 wOBA, 8.4% walk rate, 21.4% strikeout rate, 41.3% hard-hit rate, 136 wRC+ along with a 2.4 fWAR rating. He also put together a slashing line of .307/.369/.527/.895 across 453 plate appearances.
As for his defense, the 26-year-old committed two errors and generated a troubling -11 DRS (tied for last among all left fielders with at least 550 innings played), -7 OAA (tied for eleventh-worst), -4.7 UZR (sixth-worst) along with a -13.9 UZR/150 (second-worst) over his 585.1 innings in left field.
Simply speaking, Davis struggled mightily in the field during the 2019 campaign. His impressive results at the plate will likely keep him in the majors in 2020 though. In addition, his offensive ability will probably provide him with an edge over Smith and Cespedes for the starting job in left field. Those two players would thus have to battle for a bench spot once the season resumes.
Since Smith currently has two minor-league options remaining, the ballclub could easily assign him to Triple-A if they prefer to keep Cespedes as their fifth outfielder. Although, the Mets may be wasting the 24-year-old’s value if they send him down to the minors.
If the Mets were to keep Smith, then they’d likely need to find a trade partner for Cespedes. Sending the two-time All-Star to another team could become difficult though, due to the fact that he owns a full no-trade clause.
The Mets would likely prefer to keep both Smith and Cespedes on the roster (if healthy). Nonetheless, it seems like one of them may very well finish the 2020 season in another city. Despite the obstacles that the Mets could be willing to face in order to complete a deal for either player, there’s just not enough room to employ both.
So whether it’s Smith or Cespedes, it appears that New York may have to part ways with one outfielder before Opening Day, whenever that may be.