It’s safe to say that the Mets are Dodgers East, but not for the reasons you might think. The Dodgers spend more money on their roster than the Mets, or anyone else actually, but their outfield situations are quite similar.
The Dodgers started their 2016 season with an outfield of Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig. In the clinching game of the NLCS which they lost to the Cubs, they started Andrew Toles, Pederson and Josh Reddick. Throughout the season, they played Howie Kendrick, Kiké Hernandez, Trayce Thompson, Will Venable, and about anyone who showed up to Chavez Ravine with a glove. The problem with having this sort of logjam is the amount of at bats, or lack thereof, each player receives. Inconsistent ABs usually lead to a dip in batting average. Dodger left fielders ranked 22nd in the league with a .240 average. Their center fielders ranked 25th with a .242 clip. Right fielders were a little more respectable, hitting .256 to place 15th in the majors.
This remains one of the biggest mysteries in baseball. How do you keep players productive without consistent playing time? Terry Collins will be the latest manager to try and figure it out.
Even with Yoenis Cespedes opting out of his contract, The Mets are in a similar situation as the Dodgers were last year. Having picked up Jay Bruce’s team option, the Mets are now slated to begin the season with Bruce, Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares, and Brandon Nimmo on the roster. They are said to be looking to resign Cespedes, and are also interested in Dexter Fowler and Jose Bautista. If they are able to land one of their free agent targets, who should all be seeing everyday ABs, the Mets will create a situation of 5 players for 2 positions. This is where it gets messy. The players who will be fighting for regular time in center and right field have proven to be most effective when given everyday at-bats.
Having depth is never a bad thing, but it’s almost impossible to carry 6 outfielders without limiting yourself in other areas. So how exactly can the Mets approach this?
The Mets can trade one of Bruce or Granderson. Although they provide some pop, they are almost the same player. Lefties that can hit the long ball, strike out a bunch, and with limited defense. They are also very streaky hitters, having both of them slumping at the same time could be deadly for a Mets team trying to contend for a playoff spot. It is extremely unlikely the Mets trade Lagares as he is the lone right-handed hitting outfielder on the roster. The former gold glover could be used as a late inning defensive replacement.
Send the youngsters down to Vegas.
The Mets can send both Conforto and Nimmo down to AAA. Conforto is a good hitter, but he was rushed to the majors and could use some extra reps in Vegas. He clearly struggled when given limited ABs. If the Mets do not plan of playing him with regularity, he shouldn’t be wasting on the bench. Nimmo was successful in a brief stint last year, he slashed .274 in 73 ABs. He has proven he can hit, missing out on the Pacific Coast League batting title by a single point to teammate TJ Rivera. He also represents, along with Lagares, a true center field option on the roster. As Conforto, and given his age, it would be wise to send Nimmo down to the 51s if he can’t be given regular playing time in Flushing.
If thing go the Mets’ way, they should have Cespedes, Granderson, and Conforto patrolling the outfield grass. There have been reports of Jay Bruce trade interest by the Blue Jays , which could help alleviate the logjam the Mets currently have. Lagares can then become the 4th outfielder, and should be joined in the bench by a right handed platoon player. In my opinion, this would create the optimal combination for the Mets. Nimmo can benefit from an extra year in Vegas, and can take over the center field job once Granderson’s contract runs out at the end of the season.
Things change over the course of an off-season, and injuries do occur, so it might not be the worst thing to hang on to their current options. The Mets might not be faced with the same dilemma come opening day, but for now they have more questions than answers.