MLB free agency is about to get wilder. Once 5 pm ET hits on Thursday, teams can freely negotiate contracts and come to agreements with available players. Two former Mets (for now, at least) who will experience this are Jacob deGrom and Brandon Nimmo.
If Nimmo — who’s generating plenty of interest from other teams — signs elsewhere, what alternatives should the Mets consider? Lots of possibilities are likely on the table, but the free-agent market for center fielders is thin. That’s probably why New York is rumored to have an interest in Michael Conforto.
Conforto isn’t a viable Plan B
While I’ve been fond of Conforto in the past, this doesn’t sound like a great idea. In 2021 with the Mets, Scooter slashed .232/.344/.384 with 14 home runs and 55 RBI in 479 plate appearances. Last winter came and passed without him getting a new deal, then a shoulder injury was partially why he didn’t play at all in 2022.
He’ll only be entering his age-30 season, but this feels like it could be a potential disaster. We all know the Mets are in win-now mode, and the offense could use a little more punch. Depending on someone who hasn’t played in more than a year and coming back from an injury that could impact his swing doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Plus, Conforto isn’t a true center fielder. It’s a position he’s played in the past, but he’s better suited for a corner spot and hasn’t played center since 2019. If New York were to sign Conforto, that’d probably mean Starling Marte becomes the regular center fielder for 2023.
It’s great having him occupy that position in a pinch, but that’s not an outfield alignment I’d want to see the Mets employ. If Nimmo isn’t manning center field in Flushing for the foreseeable future, what direction should they go in?
An outfield alternative the Mets should consider
While New York’s offense needs a boost, it shouldn’t come at the expense of the outfield defense. We don’t know which pitchers will fill up the Mets’ staff just yet, but manager Buck Showalter needs dudes who can effectively patrol the outfield grass.
Earlier on Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays decided against exercising Kevin Kiermaier’s $13 million club option, officially making him a free agent. If there’s one thing we can be sure of, the Mets would never be pursuing Kiermaier for his offensive capabilities. It’d be for his defense.
Kiermaier owns a career line of .248/.308/.407 with a 97 wRC+. In center field, he’s been one of the game’s best defenders since landing in the big leagues. The soon-to-be 33-year-old played in just 63 games last season and produced one Out Above Average (OAA). In 122 games the year prior, though, his 13 OAA were among the top 10 at his position.
If it seems like his hip issues are behind him, he’d be an interesting alternative on a short-term deal. I’d rather have a true center fielder who can’t hit than another corner outfielder who may or may not perform after a year off and a shoulder injury.
But what about the Mets’ offense?
Hypothetically adding Kiermaier after losing Nimmo obviously wouldn’t help the offense. It’d do the opposite.
The Mets are in an interesting situation because most of the premium offensive upgrades via free agency are at positions already accounted for in Flushing. I’m mostly thinking about all the shortstops and catcher Willson Contreras (because of Francisco Alvarez).
So, if New York wanted to make another addition to boost the offense back up in this pretend scenario, it’d be for a designated hitter. Not thinking about top-shelf options, a player I’d consider if I were the Mets is Jose Abreu.
The longtime Chicago White Sox first baseman only hit 15 homers last season. That’s a single-season career-low mark for him, but it was accompanied by a .304/.378/.446 line. His 137 wRC+ was the third straight year that number finished higher than 125. His 37.2% hard-hit rate was also right in line with his career average (which is also 37.2%).
Once again, it’s signing someone who is 36 years old, but it’d also be another short-term deal that’d allow for payroll flexibility to go all out on building the rotation and bullpen.
Unless something happens in the trade market, the Mets’ options to fortify the offense include either paying top dollar or scanning the next tier for less restrictive deals. It looks like their preference is paying top dollar, but there are intriguing options if mixing and matching must be done.