Uncertainty has hovered over the Mets early on this offseason, but it’s not just their front office that remains unsettled.
The outfield situation looms as a question mark, with Brandon Nimmo looking to be the only certainty to return next season, and even he could be a candidate to get bumped to one of the corner outfield spots.
Those corners were manned by Michael Conforto and, largely, Dominic Smith last season, but Conforto is set to turn down the qualifying offer and hit the open market while Smith’s regression in 2021 clouds his future and role for next season. That will be up to whomever ultimately is hired to run the Mets’ front office, but it’s possible the team will be looking to acquire two starting outfielders this offseason.
The Mets still could try to re-sign Conforto to a bigger contract even after he turns down the qualifying offer, though he could find a better deal elsewhere, with the Phillies and his hometown Mariners among his possible landing spots.
Otherwise, the top free-agent outfielders on the market include Starling Marte, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos and Chris Taylor. Castellanos and Taylor are both expected to decline qualifying offers, meaning the Mets would have to give up the No. 14-overall pick in next year’s draft to sign either one. Earlier this week at the general managers’ meetings, team president Sandy Alderson indicated his preference would be to avoid signing a free agent that would cost the Mets a draft pick.
Marte and Bryant were both traded midseason, meaning the Athletics and Giants (the teams they finished this past season with) could not make them qualifying offers.
The Mets have already shown interest in Marte, MLB Network reported Friday. The center fielder is coming off a strong season in which he batted .310, stole an MLB-high 47 bases and recorded a 132 OPS-plus. He is 33, which could give the Mets pause depending on the length of the contract he is looking for, but he would provide an immediate impact offensively, defensively and on the bases.
Signing Marte would likely mean Nimmo would move to a corner outfield spot, where he may be better suited defensively. Nimmo made strong defensive strides last season in center, in part due to better positioning, going from minus-five defensive runs saved in 2020 to four in 2021, according to Fangraphs.
Another option is Bryant, whose versatility could help the Mets. In addition to playing all three outfield positions last season (though predominantly the corners) the majority of his MLB starts have come at third base — another hole the Mets will be looking to fill this offseason. The 29-year-old Bryant hit .265 with 25 home runs and a 124 OPS-plus last season, split between the Cubs and Giants.
Kyle Schwarber and Avisail Garcia are two other outfielders without a qualifying offer attached to them who could be of interest. Schwarber inflicted plenty of damage on the Mets last season with nine of his 32 home runs coming against them. Garcia enjoyed a solid season with the Brewers, hitting .262 with a 117 OPS-plus.
The Mets do not have plentiful internal options. It remains to be seen what will happen with Smith, who was one of their best players in the shortened 2020 season before taking a step back last season while battling through injuries. He had lost his starting job in left field to Jeff McNeil by the final month of the season, though neither is a strong defensive option.
The only other outfielders currently on the Mets’ 40-man roster are Khalil Lee and Mark Payton. Lee, 23, struggled in a cameo last season when the Mets’ outfield was depleted by injuries, but the left-handed hitter finished strong at Triple-A Syracuse, batting .274 with a .951 OPS.