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Curtis Granderson has edge over Michael Cuddyer in rightfield

Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson catches a ball during

Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson catches a ball during a spring training workout on Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Mets manager Terry Collins likes to see what he calls a little bit of "swagger" in his teams. And in the early days of spring training, there hasn't been any shortage of it.

But to make good on all that big talk, the Mets have to meet at least one foreboding challenge. They must assemble a puzzle with pieces that don't exactly fit.

The Mets lack prototypical gloves at second base, shortstop and in rightfield, where the candidates include the incumbent Curtis Granderson and free- agent pickup Michael Cuddyer.

Neither is an ideal choice for various reasons, though Collins is leaning toward Granderson because of his familiarity with the quirks of rightfield at Citi Field.

"Curtis played outstanding in rightfield last year, especially in our park," said Collins, who nevertheless acknowledged that Granderson lacks the arm of a typical rightfielder.

But Collins believes leaving Granderson in rightfield might be the cleanest solution because it would cause the least amount of complications.

If Cuddyer were to play rightfield, he would have to quickly learn the quirky terrain at Citi Field -- and Granderson's familiarity with the ballpark would be wasted in left, where he has less experience.

That scenario would force both players to make major adjustments.

For the next few weeks of Grapefruit League games, Collins said both should see game action in right. But Cuddyer is more likely to begin the year in left, where he has played only 38 innings in 13 big-league seasons.

"Yeah, obviously I don't have much experience," said Cuddyer, who signed a two-year, $21-million deal during the offseason. "But at the same time, there's no saying that I can't come over there and learn."

Cuddyer, 35, has spent the majority of his big-league career playing right, but his bat has always carried his glove.

In 2013 with the Rockies, Cuddyer's last full season, the metric ultimate zone rating (UZR) ranked him as one of the worst defensive rightfielders in baseball.

Some in the Mets' organization believe that Cuddyer's defensive shortcomings might have been overblown, exaggerated by the additional challenges of the high altitude and an expansive outfield at Coors Field. But Cuddyer now might have to learn a new position.

A childhood viral infection left him deaf in his left ear, which could complicate things further, since a leftfielder must hear when he's being called off by the centerfielder.

But he called his hearing a non-issue and expressed confidence that his work in camp will help him get acclimated to playing left.

"You've got different angles, obviously, not unlike first and third," Cuddyer said. "It's a different angle. But at the same time, you go in and you shag, you get your work in. I've been taking balls off the bat the last week, so as you continue to do that, you continue to get more comfortable."

Granderson, 33, spent much of last season in rightfield for the Mets. One rival talent evaluator said that though Granderson's arm is "short of rightfield quality," the rest of his game presents no issues.

Statistically, a parallel picture emerges, though UZR paints Granderson on the whole as a below-average defender.

Statistically, Granderson ranked slightly below average in range and well above average in avoiding costly errors. But his overall defensive ratings were dragged down by the weakest arm of any rightfielder in baseball.

According to FanGraphs, Granderson's throwing cost the Mets 7.4 runs, worst among 16 qualifying rightfielders.

"I had an old scout years ago tell me if you worry about arm strength, you're going to get your butt kicked," Collins said. "You better worry about catching the baseball."

Collins has stayed true to that advice, willing to look past Granderson's throwing issues because of his experience at Citi Field.

"That's a big wall down that line," Collins said. "It's not a lot of room. I can tell you six games when he made big catches against that wall, sliding up against that wall, that a lot of guys would shy away from. He played it very, very well."

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