What A Crowded Outfield Means For The New York Mets
Following a disappointing offseason for Mets fans, it appears as if Jay Bruce, who hit .219 in 50 games for the club a year ago, is set to be penciled in as the team’s everyday right fielder.
The Mets are hoping Bruce can right his wrongs of a year ago. After acquiring Bruce at the trade deadline, the power hitting lefty struggled mightily- so much so that the New York faithful began to compare Bruce to another underwhelming “JB” outfielder of Mets past, Jason Bay.
It doesn’t help that Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson relinquished prized second base prospect Dilson Herrera in the trade for Bruce. After picking up Bruce’s option at season’s end and failing to find a potential trade partner, the Mets must now incorporate Bruce into a crowded outfield mix.
The direction that the Mets will go with their outfielders is fairly simple, but the repercussions of the team’s plan are unclear.
Yoenis Cespedes, the team’s best player, will be the left fielder. Cespedes’ refusal to play center field despite the benefits it would bring to the rest of the lineup have been a point of contention in the past. But it’s crucial for the Mets to keep Cespedes, a noted diva, motivated and pleased. So even though center field is what’s best for the Mets, Cespedes will play left.
This forces the Mets to go with a platoon situation in center field. The Mets will play Curtis Granderson against right handed pitching and Juan Lagares against left handed pitching. Alderson flirted with the notion of trading Granderson at the Winter Meetings but couldn’t find a worthwhile suitor. Granderson’s leadership qualities have been critical to New York’s recent success. Lagares is a former Gold Glove award winner who struggled while playing injured last season. Still, Lagares possesses extreme upside and could potentially blossom into a top-tier outfielder.
And of course, Bruce will complete the outfield in right. Bruce is set for an awkward return to New York- it’s very clear that the fans do not want him on their team. Instead, most would prefer the right fielder to be the odd man out, Michael Conforto.
Conforto is the former wunderkind turned overwhelming disappointment.
His initial success in the Mets 2015 World Series run turned Conforto into a fan favorite. In that season, Conforto batted .270/.335/.506 with 9 home runs in 56 games. Conforto was largely credited, along with Cespedes, of turning around a Mets offense that struggled mightily for most of the season. He entered 2016 with high hopes.
But Conforto batted only .220/.310/.414 with 12 home runs in 109 games last season. Prior to 2016, Conforto hadn’t been given much exposure to left handed pitching. Many credit his plunge to an early season game against Madison Bumgarner, arguing that his matchup against such an imposing southpaw threw the young outfielder’s timing and mechanics for a loop. No matter what is was that caused Conforto’s regression, it appears as if he might be destined for AAA.
It makes no sense for the Mets to stunt Conforto’s progression by leaving him on the bench. Conforto needs to see pitching, especially left handed pitching, as often as possible in order to improve. The Mets would be doing themselves a disservice by relegating Conforto to a pinch hitting role.
So what does the Mets complicated outfield situation mean for the team’s success?
Well, it’s no secret that the majority of the club’s ability to win games hinges on the performance of their starting pitching. Beyond Noah Syndergaard, nobody in the expected Mets rotation was able to avoid disappointment a year ago, whether it be from injury or a lack of production- or in Matt Harvey’s case, both.
Furthermore, the Mets infield does not guarantee much. David Wright, the team’s captain, has played 75 games in the last two seasons combined. Asdrubal Cabrera is entering is age 31 season and dealt with injury issues at the tail end of last season. Neil Walker’s promising 2016 campaign was cut short after 113 games due to a back injury. And Lucas Duda appeared in only 47 games last season because of a back injury of his own.
Clearly, the Mets outfield will need to pack a punch offensively.
Cespedes should be able to build upon his success in the Big Apple. He is the engine that drives the Mets offense, and without him, the team has an incredibly average feel. There’s no reason to believe Cespedes won’t be in the mix for the National League MVP award.
Despite defensive limitations, Granderson looks to be a catalyst for the team’s lineup. His regression is looming, but perhaps splitting time with Lagares will allow Granderson to focus more intently on his individual moments.
And Bruce, the most likely candidate to become the next villain of Mets lore, better hope he can turn his performance around. New Yorkers don’t take too kindly to bad players making a lot of money.