We know the Mets want to re-sign Brandon Nimmo to man center field in Flushing for the foreseeable future. His services are high in demand, though. What if New York isn’t successful? There were already some intriguing backup plans to consider. The Los Angeles Dodgers non-tendering Cody Bellinger last week just adds another option.
I recently talked about a backup plan for the Mets’ outfield and offense if Nimmo didn’t return. To sum it up quickly, I didn’t (and still don’t) want a reunion with old friend Michael Conforto. Since Nimmo is clearly the best free-agent combination of offense and defense in center field, New York would have to get creative to fill the void.
General manager Billy Eppler suggested Starling Marte could shift to center field, but he’s better suited for a corner outfield spot. Unless the Mets want to trade for a center fielder, they should prioritize defense for that area of the roster.
My initial idea was to sign Kevin Kiermaier to play center field. Since he’s not known for his offense, New York would have to supplement the lineup another way. Jose Abreu stands out as a designated hitter option.
But now that Bellinger — who is only 27 years old — is on the open market, he’s an intriguing bounce-back candidate because of his past track record. He’s struggled mightily at the plate over the past three seasons, but he’s had incredible success. Bellinger not only won the 2017 National League Rookie of the Year Award, but he also captured the 2019 NL MVP Award with one of the most powerful seasons in Dodgers history.
Like Kiermaier, Bellinger has been among the league leaders in Outs Above Average (OAA) in center field. Belli’s 7 OAA in 2022 landed him in the top 10 at his position. He also produced 2 OAA in 2021 and 7 OAA during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
Unlike Kiermaier, Bellinger will be a lot younger (by about six years) when Opening Day arrives. We already know what Kiermaier is capable of on offense. For Bellinger, we know there could be something still left in the basement. He’s also racked up plenty of postseason experience, which included some clutch moments on the Dodgers’ journey toward being 2020 champions.
While it’s assumed Kiermaier would command a short-term deal, agent Scott Boras has said Bellinger prefers a one-year deal to rebuild his value. Considering all these things, it’s a no-brainer that the left-handed slugger will generate plenty of interest around the league.
Can he rebound on offense after three down seasons? If there’s ever a time to take a calculated risk, it’s right now. This feels like one of those situations where Bellinger needs a change of scenery to get back on track. And, maybe he needs a different hitting coach to work with.
The Dodgers have had the same hitting coach — Robert Van Scoyoc — since 2019. Sure, he landed there in time for Belli’s MVP campaign, but he’s also been there for the entire downturn in performance. It’s not that Van Scoyoc is doing something wrong, but sometimes all a hitter needs are new surroundings and a different perspective to get their groove back.
Heading across the country to play for the Mets and work with hitting coach Eric Chavez would certainly qualify as a fresh start.
The Mets’ most preferred option for center field next season and beyond is obviously Nimmo. They know him, know what he’s capable of, and love having him in the clubhouse. But if that doesn’t happen, they’ll need to get creative. Pursuing Cody Bellinger on a one-year prove-it deal would be a worthy pivot as part of New York’s full body of work this winter.