Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
A scenario where the middle of the Mets' lineup does not feature Michael Conforto is not one the team wants to think about, but it's one they're possibly facing now that his status is in doubt due to a side injury he suffered on Saturday.
Conforto, who has returned to New York for further evaluation after receiving an MRI in Port St. Lucie, will hope for good news. But even if the news is good, it's fair to believe his status for Opening Day (on March 26) and beyond could be in doubt.
Fortunately for the Mets, Conforto is the only key player who is currently dealing with a new injury. And unless his absence is months-long, they should be able to withstand it.
With Dominic Smith on the roster, Yoenis Cespedes getting closer to a return to games, and Jake Marisnick a defense-first option, the Mets have plenty of places to turn as they look to patch things together if Conforto is out. They also have the ability to shift Jeff McNeil around.
Here are some potential scenarios...
Dominic Smith takes over in right field
With a fully healthy outfield of J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo, and Conforto from left to right and Pete Alonso at first base, Smith profiles as a very valuable bench piece.
If Conforto is out, Smith all of a sudden becomes the next-best outfield option -- and one that would also offer some left-handed punch.
While Smith did an admirable job adjusting to left field on the fly last season, his defense will be a dropoff from what Conforto offers. But Smith was passable in the outfield in 2019. And the offense he could provide -- Smith slashed .282/.355/.525 last season in 177 at-bats -- makes him the most logical option to fill in.
Smith has played only one career game in right field, though, so it would be wise for the Mets to get him plenty of reps out there the last few weeks of spring training.
Yoenis Cespedes is ready and able
Cespedes has been targeting mid-March to return to games. And he took a big step on Monday when he started running to first base at full-speed.
He will need to run the bases at full-speed and show that he can do the same on cuts in the outfield before he enters games, but Cespedes is definitely getting close.
Still, even if Cespedes is healthy enough to be on the Opening Day roster, it's hard to see him playing full-time. So perhaps he can start in left field against left-handed pitchers.
In the above scenario, Davis could be an option to play right field. But left field has so far been the only outfield position he has played during his professional career.
Jake Marisnick gets a shot
The Mets could go defense-first if Conforto is out, using Marisnick in center field and flanking him with Davis or Smith in left field and Nimmo in right.
But doing so would mean one of Davis or Smith is on the bench most days. And not taking advantage of the offense Davis and Smith could provide is probably not in the team's best interest -- even though it would mean getting Marisnick's well above average glove in center field.
Jeff McNeil shifts to right field
The expectation has been that McNeil will be the Mets' regular third baseman. If Conforto is out, though, the team could potentially slide Davis to third base and use McNeil in right field.
And with Smith and Davis having either very limited or no experience in right field, using McNeil out there could make the most sense.
In the above scenario, Davis can play third base (where he has been taking plenty of reps this offseason and through spring training) and Smith can play left field, with Nimmo in center, and McNeil in right.
No matter what the Mets do in the event of the absence of Conforto, it's clear that they have plenty of solid options.
With just over two weeks to go between now and Opening Day, the Mets also have time to put their plan or plans in motion during spring training games.
Again, a Mets team with Conforto playing regularly is the best Mets team. But the options they have to fill in are pretty strong as well.