Before the Mets surprisingly re-signed fan favorite Yoenis Cespedes, they already had a plan with their outfield. Michael Conforto was going to be the everyday left fielder, with Curtis Granderson manning the other corner on an everyday basis. In center field, Juan Lagares and newly signed Alejandro De Aza were going to split time in a platoon role. It was not perfect, especially after seeing how Cespedes helped inject the Mets offense with life after the trade deadline.
Now, with reports that the Mets are not shopping De Aza, the outfield is suddenly crowded, and Terry Collins will have his hands full trying to make sure everybody has at bats. Here is a preview of the New York Mets outfield:
Curtis Granderson has to play every day in right field. Defensively, he was solid last year. He had a .983 fielding percentage, with a 5.9 UZR/150, which was enough to name him as a Gold Glove finalist last season. However, the main reason why the Mets cannot afford to sit Granderson for an extended period of time is his bat, and where he hits in the lineup. While his batting average (.249) is not all that impressive, but his on base percentage (.364) and slugging percentage (.457) are very good. He is extremely valuable to the Mets, as evidenced by the 5.1 WAR and 132 wRC+. This is heightened in importance by the fact that he is the only capable leadoff hitter on the roster. While he does have 20+ home run power, he gets on base at a clip that is great for the leadoff role. He does struggle mightily against lefties (.183 avg., 61 wRC+ in 2015, .224 avg., 87 wRC+ for his career), but there is no other player on the roster who can hit in the leadoff role. Juan Lagares has a career average of .255 with an 87 wRC+ in the leadoff role for his career; that is far inferior to the .264 average and 116 wRC+ Granderson has in that role. Simply put, he has to play every day.
Michael Conforto is an interesting case. In October of 2015, Terry Collins stated that Conforto would become an everyday player in 2016; however, that was when the team was under the assumption that Cespedes would not be returning. Now that Cespedes is back in the fold, it will be interesting to see if Collins sticks with the idea of making Conforto and everyday player, or if he will continue to be relegated in a platoon role, and only hitting right handed pitching, like he did last season. He was great in his rookie campaign: he hit .270, with 9 home runs, 26 RBIs, a 2.1 WAR and a 134 wRC+. He struggled in his very limited chances to hit left handed pitching; in his 14 at bats he hit .214 with a 39 wRC+. That is far too small a sample size to judge his ability to hit left handers, but it is something to keep an eye on going forward. He is a very solid defensive player, with a 1.000 fielding percentage, with a 26.5 UZR/150. He has to play against righties, and he does deserve a legitimate chance at playing every day.
Yoenis Cespedes is arguably the Mets’ best position player. He was unbelievable for the Mets after the deadline; in fact he was probably better than he will be in 2016 and beyond. He hit .287 with the Mets, with 17 home runs, 44 RBIs, a 157 wRC+ and a 2.7 WAR, in what turned out to be a career year split between the Tigers and Mets. While this production is almost all above his career averages, he still is a very effective player, and will make the Mets lineup that much deeper. He has his issues offensively (mostly in how little he walks, as evidenced by his 6.1% career walk rate), but he will be a centerpiece in the lineup and rightfully so. Defensively is where the biggest issue lies for Cespedes and the Mets. He is a great left fielder; he won the American League Gold Glove in the position. He has only had a negative UZR/150 in left field once, his rookie year, and has been above a 9.4 UZR/150 every other season of his career. He is an excellent left fielder. However, he is the starting center fielder, and he is not excellent there. He has a career -17.6 UZR/150 in center field, and had a .977 fielding percentage last season. While a full camp and spring training may help him in center field, he still is a natural left fielder, and that position is taken by Michael Conforto. Regardless of this, he is one of the stars of this team and needs to play every day.
Juan Lagares is going to truly have to prove himself this season. For as good as he was in 2014, with his .281 avg., .321 OBP, .382 SLG, 4 home runs, 47 RBIs, 101 wRC+, and 4.0 WAR, coupled with some excellent defense (25.3 UZR/150) that lead to a Gold Glove in center field, he was bad in 2015. Dealing with an elbow injury, he regressed in nearly every category: his .259 avg., .289 OBP, .358 SLG, 6 home runs, 41 RBIs, 80 wRC+, and 1.0 WAR. He also dramatically regressed in the field, with his UZR/150 falling down all the way to 4.1. While it is being reported that he lost 20 pounds, and he hit well in winter ball, he still has a lot to prove in order to get more play time in 2016, especially in regards to his health.
Alejandro De Aza originally was brought in the platoon with Lagares, but the signing of Cespedes took that job away from him. Now he has been relegated to being the fifth outfielder, and that role is perfect for him. Across three teams last year, he hit .262, with a .333 OBP, and a .422 SLG, 7 home runs, 35 RBIs, a 104 wRC+, and a 1.2 WAR. He strikes out a lot (23.0% K%) and walks a little (8.5% BB%), but overall he is a solid hitter. He is mostly, a left fielder, but he has experience in center field, even though he is much worse there (4.9 UZR/150 and a 0.6 UZR/150 respectively). He has a less experience in right field, but he has been good there (7.8 UZR/150). He hits right handers well, with a .274 avg., .338 OBP, .418 SLG, and a 106 wRC+, which adds to his value as a pinch hitter or spot starter.
The Mets outfield is now very crowded. De Aza, who is the fifth outfielder, can be a fourth outfielder on plenty of MLB teams. That outfield is very talented; there are at least three players who should play every day, and that does not leave much time for everyone to get at bats. Probably, what happened to end last year will happen to start this year: Conforto only playing against righties, Lagares only playing against lefties, Cespedes splitting time between center and left, with Granderson playing every day in right. The deepness of the outfield is important; injuries happen, and it is a long season. Terry Collins has his work cut out for him with figuring out the outfield.