At the beginning of the offseason, the Mets roster included two all-star caliber right fielders, a power-hitting left-fielder with little hope of seeing the field again, two infielders learning how to play the outfield to keep their valuable bats in the lineup, and no good center field option. In December, the team addressed their biggest defensive hole by trading for Astros center fielder Jake Marisnick, a defensive specialist whose best offensive season came during the 2017 Astros cheating scandal. Though Marisnick is primarily expected to back up Brandon Nimmo in center field this season, it hasn’t inspired much confidence amongst Mets fans that Marisnick remains the only true center fielder on the 40-man roster.
A month after the Marisnick trade, the Mets signed White Sox outfielder Ryan Cordell as a non-roster invitee to spring training in the hopes of finding another option in center field. In only his second season in the majors in 2019, Cordell took the lion’s-share of appearances in right field for the Sox, though he didn’t make much of his opportunity, registering a 73 OPS+ and a -0.6 bWAR in 94 games. And while Marisnick has played in over 500 games in center field over his career, Cordell only played 19 games in center for the White Sox last season, giving him little experience at the position he’s been asked to play in New York.
Though Marisnick has more experience in center field, he may not actually present more value than Cordell. Marisnick’s OPS+ of 80 last year sat seven points higher than Cordell’s, but neither came close to approaching league average. Both players would represent a significant improvement over the Mets 2019 rotation of backup center fielders Carlos Gomez, Aaron Altherr, and Keon Broxton, however. None of those three players hit for higher than a 65 OPS+ while backing up Juan Lagares, who himself was backing up an injured Nimmo and struggled through the season with a 63 OPS+.
The case for Marisnick as an elite defender, which GM Brodie Van Wagenan lauded immediately after the trade, also seems a bit exaggerated. While Marisnick’s 2019 UZR/150 of 5.4 in center field betters Nimmo’s negative rating at the position, it falls way short of Cordell’s 2019 UZR/150 of 20.5 at the same position. Cordell’s UZR could potentially be inflated by good play in a small sample size, especially since he registered a negative UZR at his primary position, but Marisnick’s UZR has been trending downward since a stellar sophomore season in Miami and Houston in 2014. Considering his comparable offense and potentially superior defense, there’s a chance that Cordell could provide similar production than Marisnick as the Mets backup center fielder.
The trouble for Cordell is that it doesn’t make sense for the club to carry two backup center fielders, especially when Michael Conforto played twice as many games in center as Cordell in 2019 and could easily do the same if asked in 2020. In an ideal situation with Marisnick’s slight offensive edge and Cordell’s potential defensive edge, both could sit on the roster with Cordell as a late-inning defensive replacement and Marisnick as an occasional starter against left-handed pitchers. But with Marisnick’s years of experience in center field, Cordell will need to prove quickly that he’s a significantly better option to get on the 40-man roster.