The Outfield: An Awful Lot of Questions; Not Many Answers

The Mets need Yoenis Cespedes. That’s basically the simplest sentence I’ll ever write. There should be no debate of that point either. Once he decides to opt out of his current deal, re-signing the slugging left fielder should be the priority for Sandy Alderson and company.

But – should the team be able to retain Cespedes – that would open up a number of other questions in the outfield for the 2017 team. Mainly, what do you do – if anything – with Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and/or Juan Lagares?

That’s a lot of names vying for playing time in 3 spots and, as much as I’ve already gone over this, I still haven’t figured out a solution that would satisfy me going into next season.

That being said, let’s break down the possibilities on each:

1. Yoenis Cespedes

An absolute necessity.There is no permutation for next season that I will be happy with that doesn’t include Cespedes. He’s going to opt out and he’s going to get paid, but the team better recognize that you don’t let players of this quality just up and walk away because of money.

2. Curtis Granderson

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the biggest Grandy fan. I like him when he’s going well, but other times, not so much.He plays a serviceable RF, but has a wet noodle of an arm which constantly allows runners to take an extra base.

On the other hand, the man is an absolute pro. He doesn’t get too high or low and serves as a great example of what it means to be a big league ballplayer to the younger guys.

Granderson started 2016 in an absolute black abyss of a slump, but rebounded late to post decent numbers. He has 1 year left on his deal for $15M which may have looked like an impossibility to move in June, but he did show enough down the stretch that you’d think there has to be a team out there willing to take a shot on him for one year if the Mets are willing to eat some of that money.

He’s probably the player I’d be most interested in dealing, but I do worry about the effect such a move would have on the clubhouse as you constantly hear how beloved he is by his teammates. That being said, if there is a move to be made, you’d genuinely have to wonder about what kind of value you’d get in return for an aging, streaky player. I don’t know if anybody they would get in return would be anyone that would improve the current roster and you certainly don’t want to just give Grandy away for a nothing return. It’s a very complex situation. Which brings us to…

3. Jay Bruce

Acquired before the deadline for Dilson Herrera who was our 2B of the future, Bruce struggled mightily as he adjusted to a new team and city and was consistently booed for his collection of absolutely woeful at-bats.

Bruce has a team option for 2017 at $13M which you would think is a cinch to be picked up, but the issue becomes what you do with him after. Like Granderson, Bruce is a streaky, high strikeout guy and is comparatively just as bad if not worse than Curtis defensively.

With Cespedes making it clear that he’s no longer willing to play center field, it’s simply unreasonable to think the team can keep both Bruce and Granderson since having to play either one in CF is the equivalent of punting the position and will lead to balls dropping that should have been caught and runs scoring that never should have been on base.

Bruce is an interesting case because, if you feel you have to make a trade, he seems likely to bring back decent value because of his history and the fair dollar amount attached to him. But the idea of having a full-season of Bruce, Cespedes and Lucas Duda (which will be another blog in itself) is tantalizing for a team that had so much difficulty scoring runs down the stretch.

There has been talk of possibly moving Bruce to 1B (at least part-time), but as a lefty hitter, that’s basically waving goodbye to Lucas Duda while probably downgrading the position defensively. Once again, not an ideal situation.

4. Michael Conforto

What a weird year it was for Scooter. After a strong debut and solid performance into the World Series, Conforto looked like a lock to be patrolling LF for the next decade. Then a slump turned into a black hole which turned into a demotion to Las Vegas.

While in Vegas, he was able to get back to the things that had made him successful, but seemed to have lost every ounce of confidence from Terry Collins as it felt like he never played after rosters expanded in September.

Make no mistake: the Mets need Conforto to be successful. Besides just the on-field value he would bring, he offers a low-cost option in a lineup full of ever-rising salaries. While money should be less of an issue for the team coming off two reasonably successful seasons, they’re still not out of the woods yet when it comes the debts they built up due to the Bernie Madoff catastrophe and the restructuring of debt against both Citi Field and SNY.

Conforto, as with Granderson and Bruce, is not and probably should not be playing CF. He’s also been pushed from his natural LF since Cespedes took it back and only has limited exposure in RF. Once again, there’s been talk about getting him reps at 1B, but – as he also bats left-handed – that would once again force Lucas Duda off the roster or into a platoon that makes no sense.

Conforto had significant trade value, but it had to be impacted by 2016’s down year to where now you’d be selling low on a player that was looked at as a cornerstone just a few months ago. I can’t possibly see how you move him away at this point as there’s still so much upside should he get back to what made him successful in 2015.

5. Brandon Nimmo

The first draft pick under the Alderson regime, Nimmo made his major league debut this year and looked…eh, like a 4th or 5th outfielder right now. There’s obvious tools and he’s still young enough to put on some mass, but, at this point, Nimmo is probably ticketed to at least begin the season in Triple-A Las Vegas.

He was rumored to originally be included in the deal that eventually landed Jay Bruce, but that seemed to change at the 11th hour and he stuck with the team through September where he showed promise as a bench option with some key pinch hits while being able to provide a little speed late in the game as well.

Nimmo has a significant amount of experience playing CF in his minor-league career, but doesn’t project to be able to handle the position regularly. From what I’ve seen, I thought he looked adequate. Average at best, but it’s not like he was a tire fire out there.

Unless some kind of deal is struck during the offseason, I’d imagine he starts in Vegas where he had a breakout season in 2016. It remains to be seen how that will translate out of the high altitude of the Pacific Coast League or if he’d even be given an opportunity to contribute in Queens next season.

6. Juan Lagares

After a breakout 2014 season that saw him win a Gold Glove, Lagares signed a 4 year deal that provided him security and the team a friendly dollar figure should he continue to improve and build upon that terrific year. Unfortunately, for the Mets, he has failed to do so.

A combination of injuries and stagnation have brought Lagares’s development to a screeching halt and he’s been unable to refine his approach at the plate enough to make himself a genuine option to be an everyday player.

In a perfect world, Lagares learns to be respectable at the plate as his defense in CF would add significant value to his batting line and make this easy on the Mets where he would seize the position for himself and hold it down. Instead we’re left with the constant question of what we can reasonably expect from Juan and still patching in the Grandersons and Confortos of the world and hoping they don’t cost you a game with their defense while trying to jumpstart the offense.

It’s a tough situation and right now, you’d have to look at Lagares as the 4th outfielder until further notice. You hope he comes into spring training ready to go and really blows people out of the water, but he’s had the opportunity to do so for a couple of years now and has been unable to clamp it down.

He’s valuable as a late-inning defensive replacement and a RH bat, but he’s one of the few – if the only – players on this roster who could be classified as above average defensively and at a premium position – you’d wish he could get his game together enough where you can run him out there everyday to ease a bit of the burden on your pitching staff.

Which brings us to where we stand. Outside of the inherent need to hold on to Cespedes, the team looks to be playing musical chairs with the other two spots in the outfield with none an ideal fix. With a weak free agent class in the offing, Alderson and crew are going to have to be creative in making the necessary improvements needed in this roster while at the same time, not making a deal just for the sake of clearing a body.

It’s a very tough situation especially with the lack of seemingly obvious answers. Normally, I’m pretty certain about things I’d like to see, but this feels like a no-win situation. There are tons of possibilities and no real true answers. At the very least, the offseason appears as if it will be plenty interesting.

4Baggers: Four Reasons the Mets’ Dynasty May Be Already Over

This one hurt.

It’s taken me a few days to decompress and think rationally, but losing to the Royals on Sunday night absolutely destroyed me.

Sure, it was a great run in a surprising season and was a fun, exciting ride to a championship series that ended at the hands of a better team, but it also may have been the worst outcome possible for the Mets going forward.

I’ve taken a few days to collect and put together my own thoughts as well as reading and listening to bloggers, mainstream media and other Mets fans. The overwhelming feeling is that this is just the beginning of a long, sustained run of success for the team and that getting back to the World Series is all but guaranteed.

As for me? Well, I just don’t see it.

Now, now. Don’t rush to judgment! Hear me out first. I’m not trying to be “that guy” and troll for the sake of it, but when objectively looking at the situation the team is in, I can see it becoming very difficult for the Mets to have this opportunity in the near future.

Which is why a I took losing a very winnable World Series to a better team so hard. Had the breaks gone the Mets’ way, we could have been partying Sunday night instead of mixing booze with prescription medication in an attempt to forget what had just happened.

Sometimes you only get once chance. One opportunity. To do everything you ever wanted. One moment. Yo, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is fucking great. But, honestly, as much as it pains me to say, the Mets not only didn’t capture it, but the future does not necessarily set up favorably. We examine the reasons:

1. The Rest of the League Will Not Continue to Suck

The Mets were, at best, the fifth best team in the National League and that’s not even counting the Nationals who were superior on paper, but were a trainwreck and couldn’t get anything going in the right direction for any period of time.

The Pirates added another early exit in the Wild Card game. The Cardinals were the most consistent team in the league all season, but were beaten handily by a young and sure to improve Cubs team. The Giants couldn’t force their way into the dance, the Dodgers engaged in their annual disappearing act and the Cubs, who had gone 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season, fell victim to an historic offensive performance by Daniel Murphy, a collection of unhittable flamethrowers and, finally, the bad luck of being BABIP’d to death (which ended up haunting the Mets against the Royals).

Simply put, it’s unreasonable to expect the better teams to have repeat performances. Everything came up Mets-house from the Nationals folding, to favorable match-ups against the Dodgers in lieu of an opening round showdown against any of the Central teams, then finally getting past a young Cubs team that couldn’t catch up to the Mets’ arsenal of arms.

Call it fate, destiny, whatever you will. Whatever you choose, remember that getting all those ducks in a row twice is unlikely if not impossible.

2. “Terrible” Terry Collins

The Mets just gave their manager a two-year extension coming off the first postseason run of his managerial career. It’s not surprising. Getting your team to the World Series – on paper – does look like quite the achievement.

Except it was the way he got them there. His inability to manage innings for his starters, define roles for relievers, be able to set a competent and consistent lineup, stick to his own decisions or (in something that isn’t being talked about enough) position his fielders late in close games to prevent extra-base hits. (This is in reference to Collins and his staff not positioning Michael Conforto to “no-doubles” depth in the 9th inning of Game 5 which led to Eric Hosmer’s drive becoming an RBI double instead of the inning’s first out.)

Collins came into the job as a placeholder for when a serious manager could be identified. His history as a minor league coordinator and developer of talent seemed like it would be useful as the Mets were entering a period where they would depend on a number of young players to mature into everyday regulars at the big league level.

Pitching coach, Dan Warthen has, to this point done a terrific job with the young arms he’s be required to helm. Collins, Tim Teufel and Tom Goodwin have not exactly had the same luck with the position players. Consistent inconsistency and lack of progression have hampered more than a handful of players and led to a lineup dependent on mediocrity.

My feelings on Collins went from indifference his first two years to downright disdain over the last two. This team went on the run they did IN SPITE of their strategy-challenged manager and it’s very reasonable to say that they’re not World Series champions today because of him.

Did I mention that Michael Cuddyer got three at-bats in a World Series game instead of Juan Uribe? Because that happened.

3. Pitchers Get Hurt. It’s Science.

We all hate Scott Boras and the influence he exuded over Matt Harvey at the beginning of September when Harvey went from the Dark Knight to Two-Face overnight, but taking our fandom out of the equation…he wasn’t exactly wrong.

Because of all the mediocrity and failings around the rest of the National League, the Mets went on a deep playoff run probably a year (or more) ahead of Sandy Alderson’s even best expectations.

The result of this is that – with the exception of Steven Matz who missed a significant amount of time with injuries – the Mets’ young starters all saw very significant jumps in the number of innings they pitched this year. While we will have to wait and see the effects, if any, all these extra inning and pitches will have had on the staff, injuries to pitchers are now to be expected and not the cause of surprise.

Zack Wheeler is on schedule to return from Tommy John early in the 2016 season and he may be needed to help lighten the load on the rest of the rotation if they don’t react well to having a shorter offseason than normal to rest those troublesome elbows and shoulders.

Regardless of age, strength or mechanics, we’ve learned – especially over the past few years – that pitchers sometimes just break without warning and it would be unreasonable for the Mets (with their history of bungling injury prevention, diagnosis and treatment) to all of a sudden set the bar for pitcher health.

4. The Wilpons Are Still Broke

You would think that a World Series run and all the tickets, merchandise, food, beer and excitement money raked in by the team would be the jolt the franchise needed to get back to black ink to maybe even dream about sniffing green again.

The narrative that the Wilpons finally doubled-down and spent the money necessary at the trade deadline to bring in the pieces needed to solidify the roster is simply untrue. Sure, they did take on some salary commitments, but the money used to cover those was easily found in the money from the insurance payout the team received due to David Wright missed such a large number of games after being diagnosed with Spinal Stenosis earlier in the year.

Winning has a way of blinding the truth. Or at least being able to mask the taste of lies, but with a payment to the Madoff trustees of $30M looming for the Wilpons along with their regular debt payments to MLB and Bank of America, it’s hard to see the team going out and spending to improve upon a roster with some glaring needs and holes.

While the team will be forced to makes moves with the likely defections of Yoenis Cespedes, Murphy, Tyler Clippard, Bartolo Colon, Juan Uribe, etc, adding salary above anything already coming off the books could prove to be troublesome for an ownership group that should have been forced to sell in the immediate aftermath of the Madoff mess.

We also have to remember that every year that passes by brings that collection of starting pitchers one year closer to arbitration raises and free agency and, at some point, they’re going to need to get paid. All of them. And that just looks impossible by current Wilpon expenditure.

I’m not hoping for any of this to happen, mind you. I’m just uber-aware that all of these points exist and are distinct possibilities. I would love for this team to all of a sudden turn into some kind of superpower, but there just seems to be too much in the way for this to turn into something lasting.

I would love to be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m not, it makes blowing this opportunity against the Royals even more distinct. Nobody is ever guaranteed a second chance. Eminem never had to sing “Lose Yourself Again” because he slayed Papa Doc the first time around.

There were entirely too many comparisons of this team to the 1986 team, but, in reality, this year’s Mets were – more likely – the 2006 team. On a date with destiny until they got in their own way. Hopefully, this team will get another shot at Papa Doc, but it is nothing close to a sure thing.