The Mets had themselves a busy Black Friday. In addition to inking infielder Eduardo Escobar to a two-year deal, the club signed outfielders Mark Canha (to a two-year deal worth $26.5 million) and Starling Marte (to a four-year deal worth $78 million) to cap off a frantic day of spending. Billy Eppler mentioned at his introductory press conference that, in addition to being very engaged in the starting pitching market, he would focus on improving the outfield. Given the flurry of activity on Friday, he has seemingly lived up to his word on that front.
Before diving into what the team has, it’s worth mentioning that these moves almost definitively spell the end of Michael Conforto’s time in New York. It’s impossible to imagine any scenario where the long-time Met will receive an offer from his former club given the most recent additions to the outfielder. Conforto declined a Qualifying Offer from the Mets, who will receive a compensatory pick after he signs elsewhere.
Now to what the club has in front of them. With their Friday moves, the Mets have filled out their starting outfield for 2022. Heading into Opening Day, Marte will hold down center, which will allow Brandon Nimmo to slot into one of the corner spots, with the newly-signed Canha handling the other corner. This gives the team’s outfield a much more natural look than it did with Nimmo in center, although the 28-year-old former first round pick did admirably in playing the position to which he was less accustomed to.
Let’s start up the middle. Marte gives something the team has been lacking since Curtis Granderson patrolled the outfielder: an actual center fielder. The 34-year-old split last season between the Marlins and the Athletics and had one of his best years. Marte may not play in center for the duration of the four-year contract, but for at least the start of his run in New York, he gives the club a dependable defender who is in the 82nd percentile in Outs Above Average, according to Baseball Savant. He finished 2021 with three Outs Above Average, which is his best mark since finishing with nine OAA in 2018 with the Pirates.
They also get a player who has been durable during the extent of his major league career. He has appeared in at least 120 games in each season since his first full year in the majors—he played in a league-high 61 games during the shortened 2020 campaign—and has appeared in at least 130 games five times since debuting. He is also coming off a career-best 134 wRC+ and 5.5 fWAR, so there’s no reason to think that he will be going into decline. He gives the club the best base stealing threat they’ve had in quite some time, and he figures to slot right at the top of the club’s lineup while providing speed and solid defense.
Now let’s turn to the corners. Canha can play all three outfield positions, as well as first base. He spent the majority of his 2021 in left field, though he primarily played right in 2019, and that could be the better play here since Nimmo’s original position was left field. The big concern between the two of them is health. Canha has had hip problems dating back to 2016, and he missed about three weeks with a hip ailment last year. Still, he did appear in 141 games, but it remains something to look out for.
Meanwhile, Nimmo has been one of the team’s best players when healthy and has been a stable defensive outfielder. According to Baseball Savant, Nimmo is in the 86th percentile in OAA in 2021 and finished with four OAA last year. He has also been near the top of the league in wRC+ over the past four years, finishing with 148, 114, 149, and 137 in the past four seasons. The problem with Nimmo is that he has been plagued by injuries. After playing in a career-high 140 games in 2018, he appeared in just 69 in 2019 and 92 in 2021.
This brings us to the team’s outfield depth, which is sorely lacking right now. Kevin Pillar, who was the primary option last year and saw extensive playing time in the wake of Nimmo’s and Conforto’s injuries, declined an option earlier this winter, while Albert Almora Jr. elected free agency after getting designated for assignment by New York. With the potential injury concerns around Canha and Nimmo, the team will need to invest in depth this winter. The Mets did sign Nick Plummer to a major league deal, and he remains an option, he has never appeared in a major league game, so it’s hard to predict what you can expect from him. The Mets also have Khalil Lee on the 40 man roster, but he struggled in the big leagues when he had opportunities last year, and he might be better served starting in Triple-A. There’s also Mark Payton, whom they acquired in a trade with the Reds last July, on the 40 man roster.
They also have a few internal options, but these players are better positioned elsewhere, and could also find themselves in another uniform before the Mets play their next game. Between their current options, Jeff McNeil is the player most likely to remain in New York, but if he ends up as the team’s starting second baseman or third baseman, that likely eliminates him as a backup outfielder—the club should be utilizing McNeil as a super utility player, but that’s a discussion for another day. Then there’s J.D. Davis and Dominic Smith, both of whom could be floated in trades over the winter. Both have outfield experience but neither has looked exactly comfortable in their time in the outfield. It’s likely one, or both, will find themselves on a new team come February.
The Mets seem to be shifting focus to pitching and defense, and they have done well to fill out their starting outfield with two very capable players who can hit and play perfectly cromulent defense. Their job from here on out—a lockout is looming, so it might be something they will have to resume when the dust settles—will be to fill their bench with depth pieces for their outfield. This is something Billy Eppler can address later in the winter, much like the club did with Pillar and Almora last offseason, but it is something he cannot forget to tackle, or else it could spell serious trouble down the line. Otherwise, the club’s starting outfield is in pretty good shape heading into Opening Day.