Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Michael Conforto is well ahead of schedule in his return from shoulder surgery, is in New York, and could be activated from the DL on Thursday -- the first day he's eligible.
Conforto potentially returning this early is a great thing, as is the outfield depth the Mets are about to have. But with four starting-caliber players for three spots, and Juan Lagares also needing playing time, the Mets will have some decisions to make.
So, what could they do? And what should they do? Here are some options...
Simply rotate everyone
Despite Conforto being ahead of schedule, the Mets have been cautious with his return -- slowing him down along the way to be on the safe side. And the Mets have been hinting since the winter that Conforto will likely be eased back into things when he returns.
While he's been cleared by doctors, who have told him odds of him re-injuring the shoulder are minuscule, Conforto will likely be given more days off (at least early on) than Yoenis Cespedes and Jay Bruce. And if that's the case, the Mets are set for the moment.
Meanwhile, Bruce hit .222/.285/.433 against left-handed pitching in 2017, and has hit .226/.291/.421 against them during his career. So one way to rotate everyone (while giving plenty of at-bats to Brandon Nimmo) could be to sit Bruce against certain left-handed starting pitchers.
Still, the Mets' best lineup against right-handed pitching should feature Bruce, Nimmo, Cespedes, and Conforto. So once Conforto is at full strength, something will have to give. And the team could do one of the following two things...
Move Jay Bruce to first base
Bruce said last week that he wasn't even thinking about the potential of playing first base this season, but GM Sandy Alderson said a few days before that Bruce could play first base on a "reasonably every day basis" if it came to it. And it just might come to it.
After having not played first base since 2014, Bruce graded out as average in 91 innings at the position in 2017.
Yes, the Mets still have Adrian Gonzalez at first base. And yes, he looked decent toward the end of Spring Training and has started the regular season on a solid note. But if his power doesn't return (his slugging percentage last season was .355), he will unquestionably be the odd-man out.
Trade Juan Lagares
The Mets kicked around the idea of trading Lagares during the offseason, but doing so then would have depleted their outfield depth at a time when they were unsure what to expect regarding Conforto's return.
At this point, it would be a bit safer to take a gamble and deal Lagares -- along with the $6.5 million he's owed this season and $9 million he's owed in 2019. Or, they can wait a bit longer and see if his revamped swing yields the power results he's seeking and results in his trade value go up.
But if Lagares, who is 5-for-9 to start the season and has been playing his usual flawless defense, becomes a legitimate offensive threat, he would be of immense value to the Mets -- perhaps throwing a welcomed wrench into their outfield plans.