If the Mets aren’t putting all of their proverbial eggs into the basket that is re-signing Brandon Nimmo, they could be facing a difficult winter that rips open a sizable void within the Mets’ roster.
Nimmo is a free agent this offseason, coming off a career 2022 in which he posted career-highs in games played (151) and RBI (64) to go with an .800 OPS and a continuously-improving glove in center field that made him a key cog in the Mets’ machine atop the lineup card or while patrolling the outfield.
“This outfield isn’t an easy one to play. Our ballpark suppresses home runs,” Mets general manager told Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman on ‘The Show’. “We all realize and acknowledge that. Depending on the year, it could be the 26th, 27th, 28th most difficult park to hit a home run in. That leaves plenty of opportunities for balls to land in the outfield and fall short of the wall.”
Nimmo is the most valuable center fielder available on the market this offseason, which means the Mets are more likely than not facing a regression if he leaves.
His WAR of 8.7 across the 2021 and 2022 seasons (h/t MLB.com) is five points higher than the next-best free-agent center fielder in Kevin Kiermaier, who posted a paltry .649 OPS in 2022 with the Tampa Bay Rays.
Barring a trade, that would make the Mets’ next-best option in center field veteran Starling Marte, who began his career at the position but has since moved to right field at 34 years old. It’s a concept that doesn’t seem to thrill Eppler.
“We believe he can [play center field],” Eppler said. “Part of the rationale in signing Marte wasn’t so much that he was a center fielder… Having above-average defense at all three positions was important to me, important to [manager Buck Showalter]. Can Starling still play center field? Yeah, we believe we can. That opens up some optionality how we would ultimately fill out that outfield.”
Of course, that’s contingent on bringing back Nimmo, who is reportedly receiving interest from the Colorado Rockies — the team he grew up in Wyoming rooting for.
“That being said, it’s not a closed case by any stretch of the imagination,” Eppler continued.
Potential right-field options on the free-agent market don’t inspire much confidence, either — outside of the pipe dream of luring Aaron Judge away from the Bronx — if the Mets were forced to move Marte to center field.
Mitch Haniger has posted a 162-game average of 37 home runs and 101 RBI over the last two seasons, but he only played in 57 games in 2022 due to COVID, a sprained ankle, and back issues. He also posted a -3 in defensive runs saved and a -7 in outs above average across 1,080.2 innings in 2021.
Right-field options grow more sparse on the open market with the likes of Wil Myers — who played just 36 games at the position in 2022 with the San Diego Padres — along with former Mets Michael Conforto and Tyler Naquin providing the next-best options.
It would lead one to wonder if Jeff McNeil would be the most suitable in-house option in right under such a hypothetical situation given his experience playing the outfield at Citi Field, though the Mets would then have to look for a full-time second baseman — a position that McNeil excelled at.
Granted, this is the “optionality” that Eppler mentioned, but it’s abundantly clear that the Mets won’t find many other options outside of a blockbuster trade than ensuring Nimmo stays in Queens to keep center field all his own.
It’s a good thing the 29-year-old is open to staying with the club that drafted him 11 years ago.
“I’m definitely interested but there’s a lot of things that go into that this offseason and like I said, still trying to digest that,” Nimmo said after the Mets were eliminated from the NL Wild Card. “But I’m definitely interested. There’s no question.”