The New York Mets have agreed to a deal with center fielder Albert Almora, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic.
It’s certainly not a high-profile move, which leaves something to be desired from a fan base who is still sifting through the rubble of losing out on Trevor Bauer, who spurned the Mets’ higher offer to join the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Centerfield had been a major question mark for the Mets heading into the offseason. The team lacks a true, natural option at the position with Brandon Nimmo — a left fielder — having assumed the role in 2020. He’s now expected to remain at that role in 2021, as well, after the Almora signing and the uncertainty that revolves around the universal designated hitter rule this season.
The Mets had been linked with George Springer, the top center-fielding free-agent option and an All-Star — but there was hesitancy to outbid the Toronto Blue Jays on a long-term deal when the 31-year-old might only have a few more years to play at that position.
Jackie Bradley Jr. was widely regarded as the next best center-fielding option behind Springer, but the 30-year-old is reportedly looking for a long-term contract of four years or more that would have paid him at least $10 million annually.
If there was a universal DH confirmed in the National League, perhaps the Mets would have been a bit more willing to offer Bradley a contract. However, if there is no DH — a fact that is still unknown despite there being just 10 days until the start of spring training — the Mets would have been forced to take away at-bats from either Nimmo or Dominic Smith.
Bradley would have shifted Nimmo over to left field where Smith — normally a first baseman — has adapted to. Nimmo and Smith would have then been forced to platoon in left with occasional starts in center for the former and at first for the latter. All three are also left-handed, offering little variety and an all-southpaw outfield alongside right fielder Michael Conforto.
Almora provides a right-handed option and better defense, meaning he’ll assume more of a Juan Lagares-type role as the backup center fielder behind Nimmo and a logical defensive-replacement option in late-inning situations. But that’s about it, unless he can rediscover his bat.
His offense has been a liability in recent years. Despite slashing .289/.326/.412 (.738 OPS) in his first three years with the Chicago Cubs, his numbers dipped to .230/.270/.366 in the last two seasons. That included a .167 batting average in 28 games last season.