With the return of Jay Bruce and a hole remaining in the infield, much of the buzz around the Mets this week has centered on the possibility of trading Brandon Nimmo or Juan Lagares for a second baseman. But the Mets are still dangerously thin in the outfield and willingly dealing away what little depth they have would be a serious mistake.
The Mets currently have five outfielders on the 40-man roster: Bruce, Nimmo, Lagares, Michael Conforto, and Yoenis Cespedes. Conforto, as reported earlier, is expected to be out at a minimum the entire month of April. Moreover, Nimmo, Lagares, and Cespedes all have lost significant time in recent years. The safe assumption is that they will be down by at least one man for the bulk of the season.
Teams have gotten by with four outfielders on the active roster for short stretches, but rarely for long stretches. And if the Mets were to have two on the sidelines at the same time -- a fairly common occurrence -- they would have no choice but to dig into their minor league depth, and that's where things start to get scary.
The Mets' upper minors system is almost entirely bereft of even middling outfielders. Wuilmer Becerra once garnered some interest as a prospect, but saw his production fall off a cliff after shoulder surgery and still hasn't played above A-ball. Desmond Lindsay, the team's second round pick from 2015, is a top 10 prospect in the system and has tremendous upside, but chronic injuries have slowed his development and he's still easily two years away. Jayce Boyd made some noise last year in Las Vegas, but he's 26 and hasn't been on the prospect radar for a long time.
Travis Taijeron, who limped to a .173 batting average over 26 games with the Mets last year, probably would have been their best option had he not become a minor league free agent at the end of the season. Instead, the Mets are left with exactly zero outfielders beyond the top five who have stepped foot on a major league field, and none who are projected to do so in the coming years.
There's always the possibility of a pleasant surprise -- Boyd could follow in the footsteps of his former teammate T.J. Rivera and blossom late. Becerra could recapture the power that caught Sandy Alderson's attention as a piece in the R.A. Dickey trade. A minor league signing could turn out to be a diamond in the rough. But none of these are very likely and certainly no trades should be made on the assumption that one of them will happen.
The Mets have five outfielders who have any business on a major league team and there's no reason to believe that number will grow any time soon. Every one of those five is an essential piece of this team and even that will likely be insufficient to meet the team's needs as they ride out an average season of aches and pains. And underlying all of this is the uncomfortable fact that no one knows exactly when Conforto will be swinging a bat again, let alone when he'll be able to do so effectively.
The fact of the matter is, the Mets cannot afford to lose Nimmo or Lagares, regardless of the team having brought on Bruce. Any other upgrades to the team need to come from some other route, or else we'll all get to see Matt Reynolds stumbling around left field while batting .200.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring