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Michael Conforto and the Mets' outfield glut

Michael Conforto has played his way into the Mets' plans for 2016, but the Mets will have some decisions to make.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 season for the Mets has been an up-and-down affair, particularly for the offense. Things looked pretty grim when John Mayberry Jr. and Eric Campbell were holding down the middle of the lineup. The great pitching was going to waste, and the Mets were letting a golden opportunity for improbable playoff contention slip away.

When offense was nowhere to be found, Mets fans and even some analysts were calling for Michael Conforto to be promoted. The Mets' 2014 first-round draft pick was a college bat, so there was an expectation that he could advance through the minors a bit quicker than a raw high school bat. Still, it was a risk to call him up from Double-A, where he hit .312 with a .396 on-base percentage in only 45 games. But the Mets needed offense, and this was before the reinforcements of Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, and Yoenis Cespedes were on their way to Flushing. So the move was made.

Conforto has now played in 35 games for the Mets and has been a key part of their offensive resurgence and their march to a six-game lead in the NL East. Over the course of those 35 games, he has hit .290 with a .371 on-base percentage to go with six home runs and 19 RBIs. The move paid off, and the Mets have themselves a great young hitter for years to come.

While it's a little early to look at any potential 2016 roster for the Mets, the way Conforto has played leads one to assume that he will be in the starting lineup next Opening Day. How the Mets configure their outfield is going to be the key question.

Michael Cuddyer will be entering the final year of his two-year deal; Curtis Granderson will be in his third year of a four-year deal; and defensive machine Juan Lagares is under contract through 2019. That doesn't even include the possibility that the Mets bring back Cespedes.

Cuddyer's health has kept him out of action a lot this year, and he could very well be used as a fourth outfielder and right-handed platoon first baseman to keep him healthy throughout the 2016 season. Granderson's return to old form in 2015 has fans suddenly pleased with the Mets' decision to give him a four-year deal, but at age 34 a decline could be on the horizon.

Lagares is an interesting case, as many believe that has been playing with a shoulder injury that has hindered his contributions. Lagares is young and still has a ton of potential, especially if his struggles this year were mainly due to injury.

Let's consider two scenarios: One in which Cespedes is re-signed and one in which he is not.

If the Mets manage to bring back Cespedes—a move that became slightly more likely yesterday with news that they'll no longer be restricted to a five-day negotiating window following the World Series—we can reasonably assume the outfield alignment will hew to the one the Mets have employed over the past month. That means Conforto in left field, Cespedes in center, and Granderson in right on most days. Against tough lefties, Lagares could see time in center with Conforto getting a rest, though rarely allowing Conforto to hit against southpaws doesn't seem like a great long-term plan for his continued development as a hitter.

In the more likely scenario that the Mets can't (or won't) re-sign Cespedes, Lagares becomes the presumptive full-time center fielder, with Conforto and Granderson manning the corners.

The Mets could try to move one of their outfielders during the winter, but Lagares's health is a concern, Cuddyer's usefulness—and to that extent his trade value—is very much in question, and Granderson's bat can't be easily replaced. More than likely, all of these players will be on the roster next season.

After almost not being called up, Conforto has played a huge role in the Mets' progression this season. He has played well enough to put himself on the 2016 roster and force the Mets to make a decision about their outfield. It's a good problem to have though, and one the Mets will use their entire winter to figure out.