The Mets are facing a fairly good problem as they inch toward the 2021 season.
An offseason of change is expected to hit a fever pitch in the coming weeks as Steve Cohen’s debut as team owner has the Mets in the thick of most major free-agency and trade rumors.
The Mets have a number of needs to address this offseason, most notably at starting pitching and catcher. But center field isn’t lagging too far behind as the club lacks a natural defender at the position.
From the moment Cohen took over, the Mets have been linked with slugging center fielder George Springer — the best free-agent available at his position after becoming a star over seven seasons with the Houston Astros.
Since the start of the 2016 season, the Connecticut native has posted 162-game averages of .273/.363/.500 (.863 OPS) with 37 home runs and 97 RBI. Add a steady glove that has seen him post a combined 13 defensive runs saved above average, per Baseball-Reference, and the Mets would have the well-rounded center fielder they’ve been yearning for.
It’s unknown just how close the Mets are to actually acquiring Springer. Cohen himself took to Twitter on Monday night to tell fans that “things are developing slowly so hang in there.”
However, MLB insider Buster Olney appeared on ESPN Radio and voiced his confidence that the Mets would come away with the 31-year-old’s signature.
“I’m just about ready to bet the family farm that the Mets wind up with Springer,” he said (Yes, Olney grew up on his family’s farm in Vermont).
Hypothetically slotting Springer in at center means that Brandon Nimmo would no longer be looked upon as the every-day option at the position. While the natural corner outfielder’s ability to get on-base at a high clip brings versatility to either end of the Mets’ lineup, his glove had been inconsistent in center.
Subsequent Mets moves would be made easy if the National League was afforded the designated hitter in 2021 as it had been in 2020. Nimmo simply would have moved to left field while Dominic Smith — who has worked tirelessly to earn time at a corner-outfield spot — could flex to first base or DH and rotate with Pete Alonso.
As it stands, however, it’s not going to be that simple.
Ken Rosenthal reported on Monday that Major League Baseball sent a memo to its National League clubs last week telling them to prepare for the 2021 season as though there will not be a DH available.
Whether it’s a bargaining chip for CBA negotiations remains to be seen, but the potential of having no DH leaves the Mets with a log jam, but a good problem nonetheless.
For one season, the Mets could simply platoon Nimmo and Smith in left field while giving the latter an occasional start at first base in inter-league games or if Alonso needs a day off.
That ensures the high on-base man in Nimmo and Smith — who was a top-10 producer in all of baseball last season in slugging-percentage, OPS, doubles, RBI, and extra-base hits — remains intact. Even if it means neither getting the at-bats they necessarily deserve in 2021.
A more drastic option could be shopping one of those two.
Considering the promise Smith showed last season and the versatility he’ll bring in the future at either first, DH, or left field, it would be easier for the Mets to part with Nimmo — who could be used in talks to upgrade the rotation or in more of a hypothetical blockbuster deal for a star Francisco Lindor.