With center field still a huge issue for Mets, here are 4 possible options via free agency and tradeJanuary 23rd, 2021
Mets position players are scheduled to report to spring training in roughly one month and the team still does not have a capable starting center fielder. That’s a problem.
In fact, the Mets’ lack of outfield depth on the 40-man roster is so glaring that Guillermo Heredia would likely be the backup center fielder to a miscast Brandon Nimmo if the season started today.
The other three outfielders on the Mets’ 40-man roster are Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, and Jose Martinez. Meanwhile, the player the Mets hope is their center fielder of the future — Pete Crow-Armstrong — is probably three seasons away. So the time is now to finally upgrade center field. And fortunately for New York, the season does not start today.
When it comes to Nimmo, here’s the deal…
An elite offensive player, Nimmo is a perfect fit for left field. He does not fit in center field, especially if he is expected to be out there on a regular basis.
Nimmo was well below average in center field in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and was tied with Aaron Hicks of the Yankees as the worst-rated center fielder in 2020 per OAA (Outs Above Average). Among other issues, Nimmo does not have the route-running ability or the speed to play center field regularly.
The Mets have spent far too long sacrificing defense, playing guys out of position, and watching it come back to bite them. They have fixed the situation behind the plate and at shortstop, and need to do the same for center field.
With George Springer off the board (we delved into that situation in detail here and here and here), the Mets could possibly turn to one or more of these five players…
Jackie Bradley Jr.
Bradley, 30, is not a perfect fit due in part to the mercurial nature of his offensive game.
After coming into his own in 2015 and 2016, Bradley struggled from 2017 to 2019, slashing just .234/.318/.409. In 2020, Bradley rebounded at the dish, slashing .283/.364/.450 in 55 games.
While Bradley’s offense can come and go, a career slash line of .239/.321/.412 is tolerable when you consider what he did at the plate in 2020 and — more importantly — that he is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball.
Bradley was in the 99th percentile in 2020 while being worth 7 OAA, was elite when it came to his jumps, and had above average sprint speed. He was worth 6 OAA in 2019 and 9 OAA in 2018.
SNY’s Andy Martino reported on Thursday that Bradley will not come cheap. But with roughly $30 million to go before hitting the luxury tax threshold, Bradley is clearly the Mets’ best option to fill their biggest area of need.
After trading Blake Snell, the Tampa Bay Rays could stay in salary-shedding mode and deal Kiermaier, who will earn $23.5 million over the next two seasons and whose contract contains a $13 million team option (and $2.5 million buyout) for 2023.
Whether the Rays move Kiermaier remains to be seen, and it’s unknown whether he can be had in a straight salary dump. But he is an intriguing, though a bit overpriced, option.
The 30-year-old Kiermaier is an even better defender than Bradley when it comes to OAA and other metrics, including sprint speed. But his offense is a huge problem.
Kiermaier has hit an anemic .222/.286/.383 over the last three seasons, a sharp decline from his first four seasons in the league.
If Kiermaier can be had without giving up anything of serious value — and the Mets are comfortable knowing he might be all-glove, no-hit — he could make sense.
The Mets have interest Almora and is someone to keep an eye on, Martino reported on Thursday.
The right-handed Almora could be a good platoon partner with the lefty-swinging Bradley, but it’s hard to make a case for Almora being a full-time starter.
Almora, 26, is a career .271/.309/.398 hitter in five seasons with the Chicago Cubs, and is better known for being a plus defender in center field.
In 2018, Almora was worth 10 OAA in 137 games in center field, and was worth 3 OAA in 125 games there in 2019. Last season, Almora was worth 0 OAA in 28 games in center.
The 32-year-old Pillar’s defense in center has declined sharply over the last few seasons and his offensive game is not strong enough to make up for it, making him the worst fit of the bunch.
If a team believes that Pillar can again be an elite defender in center, he could be a decent gamble. But at this point in his career, Pillar is not a player you can rely on when it comes to either side of the ball.
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