Whether or not the Mets are aggressive this offseason at the top end of the market for free agent outfielders could depend on the situation with free agent Brandon Nimmo.
If Nimmo re-signs, he’ll be back in center field with Starling Marte in right. That would give the Mets the option to have Jeff McNeil and Mark Canha split time in left field, potentially preventing them from signing a big outfielder.
But if Nimmo leaves, the Mets’ outfield situation will be thrown into a bit of disarray.
GM Billy Eppler recently said that the Mets are comfortable sliding Marte back to center if he comes to it, but what else was he supposed to say? Moving Marte back to center, with his defense having regressed there since 2019 and him playing only right field in 2022, would be suboptimal. And there is really only one appealing outfield free agent who is a solid defensive center fielder.
Getting back to the Nimmo situation…
Even if the Mets re-sign him, they could decide to use McNeil mainly on the infield and perhaps plan to use Canha in a reduced role. That would open up a starting spot in the outfield.
Nimmo or no Nimmo, here are five external free agent outfielders it could make sense for the Mets to pursue…
You can’t possibly have a list with the top free agent outfielders and not include Judge, who is probably going to sign the biggest deal this offseason and is coming off one of the best offensive seasons in the history of the sport.
But as SNY’s Andy Martino reported on Thursday and as we delved into here, Judge coming to the Mets seems unlikely.
And even if Judge is a serious option to go from the Bronx to Queens, it’s fair to wonder if the Mets would be better off spreading their money around instead of dedicating such an enormous chunk of (and lots of years) to a 31-year-old – old Judge.
Still, the idea of adding Judge to the Mets has to be tantalizing for the owner Steve Cohen and the front office. But if he leaves the Yankees — who kind of have to roll out the red carpet and the moneybags for him — perhaps it means he did so in order to return to his home state of California and play for the Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers .
Benintendi isn’t a big power threat, but his career OBP of .351 and contact-heavy lefty bat would be a welcome addition in the Mets’ lineup in the event they lose Nimmo.
Benintendi, who is entering his age-28 season, slashed .304/.373/.399 in 126 games this season for the Kansas City Royals and Yankees, but hit just five home runs.
The down year power-wise might be a one-season blip, though, since Benintendi has averaged 16 homers per 162 games during his career — almost identical to the 17 per 162 games Nimmo has averaged during.
Benintendi, who has some experience in center field, has played only left field since 2020, and has been a plus there all three seasons. He was just a bit above average there in 2022 when it came to Outs Above Average, outfielder jump, and sprint speed.
Mancini, who hit 20 or more home runs in four straight seasons from 2017 to 2021 (he didn’t play in 2020 while recovering from cancer) will likely offer more power than Benintendi.
The 30-year-old Mancini did not have the best season in 2022, struggling after being acquired by the Houston Astros at the trade deadline and slashed .239/.319/.391 in 143 games for the Astros and Baltimore Orioles.
But Mancini’s offensive track record is strong. He is a career .265/.330/.457 hitter who has averaged 27 homers and 31 doubles per 162 games.
As far as his defense goes, Mancini is capable of playing both corner outfield spots and first base, and was just about average at all three spots in 2022.
We’ll preface this by saying that it is probably unlikely, for a few reasons.
The first is that the Mets did not make a strong effort to retain Conforto last offseason after extending the qualifying offer (which Conforto rejected). The second is that Conforto, who never signed with a new team and missed the entire 2022 season following shoulder surgery in April that was a result of him getting injured during offseason workouts, is a question mark when it comes to his health.
But if Conforto now has a clean bill of health and teams are convinced he’ll be ready for next season with no restrictions, he could be one of the best buy-low candidates on the market. And even if Scott Boras asks for the moon, he won’t get it. Frankly, it would be surprising if Conforto got more than a one-year, prove-it deal.
And if the Mets lose Nimmo, replacing him with Conforto — a career .255/.356/.468 hitter who packs a punch from the left side of the plate — could make sense.
Pederson was basically an afterthought last offseason, signing with the San Francisco Giants in the middle of March on a one-year deal worth $6 million. And then Pederson had a terrific year, earning his second All-Star nod.
In 134 games for the Giants, Pederson slashed .274/.353/.521 with 23 homers, 19 doubles, and three triples in 134 games — and his advanced numbers match the strong results. Pederson’s .521 slugging percentage was the third-best of his nine-year career and the highest since he slugged .538 for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019.
The lefty-swinging Pederson played mostly left field in 2022, but also started 12 games in right field. But while Pederson is able to play both corner outfield spots, he was among the worst-fielding outfielders in baseball in 2022, and was in the 2nd percentile in Outs Above Average. That could give the Mets and other teams pause.
Pederson, who is entering his age-31 season, crushed righties in 2022 and held his own against lefties, so he could be an answer for the Mets at DH (and provide much-needed pop) if Nimmo returns and they fill left field with McNeil and Canha.