Ever since trading Carlos Beltran in 2011, the New York Mets have struggled to find a true answer in center field. From defensive specialists who couldn’t really hit (Juan Lagares), to great offensive pieces who couldn’t really field (currently Brandon Nimmo), the team has lacked consistency at the position. Now, on the precipice of being a World Series frontrunner, the Mets need that consistency. With between $25-$30 million dollars in cap space before hitting the $210 million luxury tax threshold, Sandy Alderson and Jared Porter will need to be smart about how they go about addressing this issue.
The Jack of All Trades
At this point it feels like the Mets have been in negotiations with George Springer for the entire winter. And for good reason: Springer is basically the full package.
From an offensive standpoint, Springer is a two-time Silver Slugger who’s hit .270/.361/.491 with a 140 OPS+ over seven seasons with the Houston Astros. The 2017 World Series MVP was also one of the few Astros to not regress in 2020. After slashing .265/.359/.540 and accumulating 1.9 bWAR last season, he is arguably the most coveted free agent this offseason. Defensively, while he is only slightly above average in center (14 DRS and 2.6 UZR), these numbers dwarf those of Nimmo (-14 DRS and -9.6 UZR in five seasons), making him a clear upgrade, nonetheless.
The big problem with Springer, however, is that he is reportedly looking for a contract worth upwards of $175 million over the next five years. By then, he will be 36 years old and long removed from being a quality glove in center. While there is hope the AAV may drop due to the Toronto Blue Jays only offering him $100 million, Springer’s contract would still greatly hinder the Mets’ ability to spend on other positions in 2021 and beyond. For this reason, Alderson and company may look to other, cheaper options instead.
The Defensive Wizard
Gold Glove winner Jackie Bradley Jr. is another great option for the Mets. Though his bat may be lacking, slashing .239/.321/.412 with a 94 OPS+ in eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox, he more than makes up for it with his glove. With 48 DRS and 30.8 UZR in center, JBJ has been one of the position’s best since 2013.
There is also some hope for greater offensive production going forward. The lefty has decent power, averaging 18 homeruns per season, and has put up three above average seasons offensively. The most recent came last year when he had career highs in average (.283) and on base percentage (.364). Though, it should be noted that all three seasons were buoyed by intermittent hot streaks amidst longer cold stretches.
With limited cap space, JBJ’s comparatively cheaper contract may be the deciding factor for the Mets. While hard details are unknown, the prevailing theory is that the 30-year-old will get a two-year contract (possibly with a third-year option) worth $8-$10 million AAV. Such a deal would free up the Mets to divert resources towards further bolstering their pitching staff.
The Platoon Bat
There is still a chance that the Mets choose to go even cheaper here. Should Alderson and Porter decide to more heavily invest in pitching and possibly third base, they could commit to a right-handed platoon bat to compliment Nimmo in center. Albert Almora would slot into that role nicely.
Through five seasons with the Chicago Cubs, the 26-year-old has slashed a mediocre .271/.309/.398 with an 84 OPS+. His lack of power and inability to consistently get on base are what limit his stock as a full-time starter. Defensively, he has shown Gold Glove potential, putting up 10 DRS and 1.9 UZR in 2018, but a dreadful 2019 (-5 DRS and -2.5 UZR) again highlights his inconsistencies.
Basically, Almora will be discount Jake Marisnick. With a contract likely worth just over $1 million, this will be a very low risk option. Plus, a change of scenery may finally make things click for the former first round draft pick. Worst comes to worst, things will look a lot like 2020, with Almora being a much-needed depth piece and Nimmo being an everyday starter again.
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