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Curtis Granderson will be important to the Mets yet again in 2017

“Starting center fielder Curtis Granderson” will be a thing this year.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at New York Mets Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the fact that Curtis Granderson will be 36 by the time the season starts, the veteran outfielder will play an integral role to the 2017 Mets’ success on offense. After a mediocre first year in Queens, Granderson had an excellent 2015 campaign and was a key cog in the Mets’ first trip to the World Series since 2000.

While he took a step back from his 2015 numbers in 2016, hitting .237/.335/.464 with 30 home runs and a 114 wRC+, he was still an above-average offensive contributor, and his durability—150 games played—was important for providing an oft-injured lineup with much-needed stability.

For 2017, we are likely looking at much of the same from Granderson offensively. Since his best seasons in Queens came from the leadoff spot—and, outside of Jose Reyes, there is not much competition for that spot in the lineup—Granderson is likely to spend the bulk of his time leading off the Mets’ offense. He is not the prototypical leadoff hitter, featuring a game with a modest batting average, a decent amount of walks, and 25-to-30 home run power, but it has worked out well for both parties thus far.

The biggest change for Granderson in 2017 will be defensively. Because Jay Bruce is still a Met, there is a bigger glut in the outfield than ever before, and almost all of them are corner outfielders. The Yoenis Cespedes experiment in center field failed last season after poor defense and leg injuries afflicted the outfielder, and he’ll stay in his preferred left field from here on out. Jay Bruce is solely a right fielder. So that leaves Granderson to play center field, where he played 36 games last season.

He graded out relatively well in center field last season, posting a +1 DRS and +0.3 UZR at the position, albeit in a limited sample size. While it is expected that Juan Lagares will play center field when the Mets face left-handed pitching, it is unknown whether Bruce or Granderson will sit for Lagares when he comes in.

The biggest concerns with Granderson in 2017 are health and defense. If Cespedes, who is five years younger, struggled to keep his legs healthy covering more ground in center field, Granderson playing there more often than not is a concern in his mid-30s. And despite his solid play in center during his limited time there in 2016, he struggled there in 2012, when he last played the position on a full-time basis.

Despite the defensive questions, Granderson should be a lock to play the majority of the games for the Mets in what may be his final season in Queens, as he is entering the last season of his four-year, $60 million contract. His bat will be an important one, and if he can continue being above-average like the last two seasons, the Mets’ offense will be a lot better for it as the team seeks a World Series title.