With Michael Conforto sidelined for the foreseeable future with an oblique strain—a notoriously tricky injury requiring an abundance of caution—the Mets find themselves going from a solid all-around outfield to a big question mark. Exacerbating the issue is that neither Yoenis Cespedes nor Jed Lowrie (who?) is likely to be ready for Opening Day, forcing the team to start plugging in depth and bench players not suited for everyday play.
The simplest solution, though one that would take a big bite out of the team’s offense, would be to plug Jake Marisnick into center and move Brandon Nimmo over to right field while keeping J.D. Davis in place over in left. This is an alignment the Mets are likely to trot out on occasion even with Conforto on the roster, but playing Marisnick’s career .660 OPS creates a big hole in the lineup.
The offensive drop-off would be much less if the Mets were to insert Dominic Smith into the lineup over Marisnick, but the defensive fall-out would be enormous. An outfield of Davis-Nimmo-Smith would easily be the worst defense in the majors. This could be mitigated by moving Davis to third and Jeff McNeil to left, as McNeil, while not a plus outfielder by any means, has far superior range to Davis and a general athleticism that suits him out there. This would still be a defensively challenged group, but far from the potential Keystone Kops scenario with McNeil still at third.
Digging into the Mets’ collection of non-roster invites offers a few more options, though none of them especially appealing. Eduardo Nunez, coming off a career-worst .548 OPS with Boston in 2019, is having a decent-enough spring to all but guarantee a spot on the Opening Day roster, but a few more big hits could inspire the team to start him at third base, moving McNeil into right field. Johneshwy Fargas and Jarrett Parker have both had good enough spring training numbers to give them a shot at making the roster as bench players, but probably not sufficient to give them a go at starting.
And of course, there is always Yasiel Puig. The electric 29-year-old right fielder has been waiting all offseason for a deal. But despite his career .277/.348/.475 line and powerful outfield arm, teams have struggled to look past unconfirmed claims of his disruptive clubhouse presence and he finds himself in March without a job. The question for the Mets around Puig shouldn’t be whether they can afford him (they can) but whether he can ramp up in time to start the season. If there’s any reason to think Conforto’s injury will continue past the first few weeks of the season, or if Cespedes’s return is derailed at all, Puig’s agent should be Brodie Van Wagenen’s first call.
It would be hard for any team to replace a player like Conforto, who is an all-around consistent offensive presence while providing above average defense in right field, but the Mets’ lack of major league caliber bench players and general poor defense makes them even more vulnerable to the loss. With the assumption—hopefully not a faulty one—that Conforto will miss a few weeks of the regular season, their best bet is to use a range of nontraditional matchups—such as Marisnick with a fly ball pitcher on the mound or Smith for facing a right-handed starter—to staunch the bleeding long enough to get him healthy and back on the field.