After the Mets’ win over the Phillies on Sunday afternoon, Yoenis Cespedes told reporters that he’d prefer to remain in left field going forward as his legs aren’t quite 100 percent healthy. Cespedes’s preference has a number of implications for the Mets.
The Mets’ best defensive alignment would include Cespedes in left field. He won the American League Gold Glove at the position for his work in Detroit last year, during which he put up 10.3 Def (defensive runs above average) in only 102 games. Keeping Cespedes in left also opens the door for the Mets to consistently play Juan Lagares in center, where he’s put up a 5.6 UZR/150 in limited playing time this year. This is a far cry from the 29.2/150 that he averaged from 2013-14, but it is an improvement over Cespedes’s 2016 mark of -18.8/150. It’s worth noting that defensive metrics can be pretty wonky in small samples, though these numbers do jibe with the eye test.
While a permanent move of Cespedes to left would increase Lagares’s playing time, it would have a negative effect upon the newly returned Michael Conforto, who spent some time acclimating to right field during his stint in Las Vegas. But he would be competing for playing time with Curtis Granderson at that position. The two left-handed hitters would make an awkward platoon, and as Granderson has held his own against lefties with a 105 wRC+ this year, Terry Collins is likely to lean on the veteran over the youngster.
It would appear that there is no easy answer to the Mets’ outfield logjam. Lagares should continue to start in center field against left-handed pitching, but against right-handers it will be hard for Collins to keep all of his bats in the lineup. That all said, there is no such thing as too much depth. Should the injury bug return as it so often has in 2016, the Mets have the pieces to fill in the gaps.