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.