How To Manage A Crowded Outfield Once Conforto Returns

The Mets have a situation unfolding in a collision course between the outfield and first base. As of today, the Mets are set to feature an outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce, and a platoon of Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares. At first base, the team is set to have Adrian Gonzalez and Wilmer Flores in a likely strict platoon.

Now, we all know that, when healthy, Cespedes and Bruce are playing every day. There is absolutely no question about it.

Once Michael Conforto returns, which as reported yesterday appears to be sooner than anyone thought, he will fall into that same category.

So the question is, who loses playing time?

Well, in the outfield the predicament is that they have too many options in the outfield. Bruce, Conforto, and Cespedes are all very productive outfielders each capable of hitting 30 home runs and driving in a 100 runs as well.

However, Nimmo and Lagares both offer skillsets that could theoretically make them starting outfielders as well.

Let’s start with Nimmo.

The left-handed hitting outfielder hit .260/.379/.418 with a 117 wRC+ while drawing a whopping 33 walks in 215 plate appearances.

The part of that skill-set that makes the former first-round pick so appealing is the OBP.

Had Nimmo qualified to rank, he would have had the 20th highest on-base percentage in the league and would have ranked ahead of the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Nolan Arenado, and Christian Yelich.

Now, that is not to say he is better than any of the above players. He is not in the slightest.

The point of mentioning that is to show how elite he is with that skill-set and that he can be very productive as a true leadoff hitter.

On top of it, Nimmo has shown some increased pop this spring with six extra-base hits (three homers, three doubles) to go along with a superb .343/.429/.800 slash line and 1.229 OPS.

Yes, its Spring Training, or “fake baseball,” but that is some power that we have not seen before and many scouts believed Nimmo had untapped power potential when he was drafted back in 2011.

Now Juan Lagares‘ calling card for his career has always been, and likely always will be, his defense. Over the winter, as has been well publicized, he worked on fixing his swing to have a better launch angle, but he has yet to show it in camp.

He has hit a mere .167 over 23 at-bats this spring with only one extra-base hit (double), which does not exactly make his new swing glow.

On top of it, he missed the first couple weeks of the spring with yet another injury, which seems to always derail his season.

So, right now, the situation seems to be sending Nimmo into the starting lineup until Conforto returns. More on that later.

Anyways the first base situation, on the flip side, has been very underwhelming.

For starters, the hopeful future first baseman, Dominic Smith, has played in only one game so far this spring, which has given the Mets little chance to actually evaluate him.

On top of it, the guy brought in to start at first until he earns his job at the position has looked extremely underwhelming.

Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .167 with no home runs and one double. He is also coming off a year where he hit just .242/.287/.355 while dealing with significant back issues. The combination just doesn’t bode well for this season at the age of 35.

The last guy in this conversation is Wilmer Flores, who really only factors in as a lefty-masher, and will only platoon with whichever left-handed hitter is at first base.

So, take that in for a second. That is a lot of information to digest.

Now, when Conforto returns which guy should stay in the lineup? Come to this decision on the basis of the player’s production thus far and potential for a breakout year, not on any positional factors.

The answer based solely on those two factors is Brandon Nimmo. If that is the case, then the Mets will have to do some re-alignment.

First off, Jay Bruce will have to move back to first base to make this work. Bruce played 91 innings at the position last year and finished with zero defensive runs saved, which while he is not spectacular over there, he can handle the job just fine.

This move could actually prove to be a net positive defensively too, as Nimmo playing center allows Conforto to shift to right field, which he is better suited to play.

However, the biggest impact would be on the offensive side of the equation.

Brandon Nimmo’s presence in the lineup gives the team a true leadoff hitter, as mentioned previously. Therefore, it allows Conforto to not have to hit at the top of the lineup.

It could allow for the Mets to have this lineup by the middle-to-later half of April:

  1. Bradon Nimmo  CF
  2. Yoenis Cespedes  LF
  3. Michael Conforto  RF
  4. Todd Frazier  3B
  5. Jay Bruce  1B
  6. Asdrubal Cabrera  2B
  7. Kevin Plawecki  C
  8. Amed Rosario  SS

Now that lineup looks a lot better than the version with Adrian Gonzalez in it:

  1. Michael Conforto  CF
  2. Yoenis Cespedes  LF
  3. Jay Bruce  RF
  4. Todd Frazier  3B
  5. Asdrubal Cabrera  2B
  6. Adrian Gonzalez  1B
  7. Kevin Plawecki  C
  8. Amed Rosario  SS

Of course, things could change the Spring is not even over. However, looking at this right now, the Mets would be better off moving Conforto lower in the order so that he could get more RBI opportunities while placing Nimmo at the top so Cespedes and Conforto have someone to drive in.

In terms of where Wilmer Flores fits into this picture, he can allow Conforto, Nimmo, and Bruce to rotate taking days off against lefties.

The last part of this equation, though, is where Dominic Smith fits in. That is probably the toughest part of this to answer. If Bruce is at first, Smith is blocked and for the foreseeable future.

Conforto and Nimmo are both not even in arbitration yet, while Bruce and Cespedes are under contract for the next three seasons. That really puts Smith in a rough spot.

The thing to keep in mind with a predicament like that, assuming everyone is producing well, is that it is a good situation to have.

Many teams would envy to have an excess player that is producing, which in turn creates a trade chip.

A lot can change over the next few weeks, but as of now, Nimmo does not look like the guy that should be the odd-man out.

About Josh Finkelstein 472 Articles
I am a junior at SUNY Cortland majoring in Sport Management. I have been a big Mets fan since 2007 and David Wright has and always will be my favorite player. Follow me on Twitter @JoshFinkMets