By Mike Addvensky
When the New York Mets take on the Washington Nationals on Thursday afternoon in D.C., there is a good chance that they will have All-Star outfielder Michael Conforto back in the lineup. Conforto’s return from the disabled list presents Mets manager Mickey Callaway with an interesting dilemma: how is he going to configure his outfield going forward?
Conforto is expected to activated from the DL before Thursday’s game against the Nationals. He missed the last month of the 2017 season after tearing the posterior capsule in his left shoulder. Conforto had surgery in September and was expected to be out until at least May. However, he recover quicker than originally anticipated.
After the Mets 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday afternoon, Callaway said that, “it’s likely”, when asked if Conforto would be ready for tomorrow’s game. This means that Thursday could be Callaway’s first opportunity to reconfigure his outfield and decide who is going to play center field with Conforto back.
In Conforto’s absence, Brandon Nimmo has mainly been starting in center field. Juan Lagares had made a couple of starts at the position as well. Although Nimmo has gotten off to a decent start, he is definitely going to lose some playing time now that Conforto is back. In all likelihood, Jay Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes and Conforto are going to be the Mets three starting outfielders going forward. The problem is that someone has to play center field.
This will not really be an issue when the Mets face a left-handed pitcher. When this happens, Lagares will most likely start in center field, as he is a right-handed hitter. It is when the Mets are going up against a right-handed pitcher that Callaway will have to get creative.
Out of Cespedes, Bruce and Conforto, Bruce is the least likely to start in center field. He played the position briefly at the beginning of his career, but that was 10 years ago. Cespedes played center field a lot when he first came over to the Mets in 2015. He made 39 starts at the position for the Mets in 2015 and 61 in 2016. However, he only played left field last season. This mainly had to do with Mets thinking that Cespedes would have an increased risk of re-injuring his left hamstring if he played center field.
With Cespedes’ health imperative to the Mets’ success this season, it would be wise for Callaway to keep things the same and have him just play left field. This means that Conforto is the most likely candidate to play center field. He actually got a decent amount of playing time at the position during the 2017 season, as he made 39 starts in center field. Although this is not Conforto’s natural position, he actually started to look comfortable there as the season went on.
The Mets need to find a way to get Conforto’s bat in the lineup every time they face a righty, and this probably will mean playing him in center field. Lagares will get his playing time when the Mets go up against a lefty. Even with Conforto back, Nimmo should still get some starts in center field. Cespedes is going to need a day off every once in a while. On those days, Conforto can shift over to left field.
Although we are only five games into the season, the Mets have looked very impressive thus far. Adding Conforto to their lineup will only help. Last season, he had the best year of his career, hitting .279 with 27 home runs and 68 RBIs in 109 games. He has the chance to be a special player if he can stay healthy. Callaway just needs to find a way to fit Conforto into the outfield.