For far too long, the Mets have neglected their team defense. Whether it's been playing guys out of position, acquiring older players whose range is declining, or relying on players who are simply defensive liabilities no matter where they play, the Mets have lagged behind most of the league defensively for the better part of a decade.
An example going back a few years is Daniel Murphy, whose offensive heroics helped propel the Mets in the 2015 NLDS and NLCS and defensive lapses helped kill them in the World Series the same year.
To be clear, players like Nimmo, Davis, Smith, and Murphy are not at fault here.
Nimmo is miscast as a big league center fielder but has been put out there anyway, Davis worked incredibly hard prior to this past season to improve his defense at third base but really couldn't, Smith has given it his all in left field, and Murphy was a diligent worker as well.
It's the Mets who have been at fault for trying to get by with so many poor defenders littered throughout their roster -- something that is especially galling for a team that (until 2020) was so reliant on dominant starting pitching and the fielding that's needed behind that pitching.
Those pitchers have been done quite a disservice by the players the organization has lined up behind them defensively, and the damage has been costly.
Starting in 2021, that needs to change. And it needs to be an organizational philosophy going forward.
What the Mets have going for them heading into 2021
Pete Alonso, despite a tough 2020 defensively, has proven to be serviceable at first base, and the Mets have the option to use Smith there and use Alonso as the DH (if it remains, as expected).
Andres Gimenez was stellar defensively in his rookie season, and is an option at shortstop, third base, and second base. Even Amed Rosario, whose offensive failures cost him the starting job, was above average at shortstop this past season.
Jeff McNeil has proven to be a serviceable defender at third base, second base, and the corner outfield spots.
Michael Conforto has been solid in right field and looked as good out there in 2020 as he ever has.
As far as bench pieces go, Luis Guillorme has been a revelation defensively -- watching Guillorme and Gimenez up the middle at times in 2020 was a treat for Mets fans who have been starved for elite defensive play.
In the minors -- and this is a credit to the drafting and international signings by Brodie Van Wagenen's group and Sandy Alderson's group before him --the Mets have some plus defenders on the way, including shortstop Ronny Mauricio, catcher Francisco Alvarez, and outfielders Pete Crow-Armstrong and Isaiah Greene. Mauricio is close to the majors, though Alvarez, Crow-Armstrong, and Greene are years away.
Decisions to make
Davis was worth -8 DRS at third base in 269.1 innings over 34 games in 2020. Extrapolate that over a full season and you get a player who is simply not playable at third base.
Heading into 2021, the Mets need to turn anywhere else when it comes to the hot corner. McNeil and Gimenez are among the options.
Nimmo had a hell of a time in center field this past season, finishing tied with Aaron Hicks as the worst center field defender using the Outs Above Average metric. They both rated at -4.
As is the case with Davis and third base, the Mets cannot use Nimmo in center field next season with any regularity. He's a great fit in left field, though.
Ramos will almost certainly be a former Met, though the team still has to make that official by buying out the last year of his contract for $1.5 million.
Gimenez needs to play every day on the infield. He showed offensive punch in 2020 and his defense is elite in terms of his athletic ability and instincts.
Smith can play left field in a pinch, but he's much better suited at first base or as the DH.
Free agent and trade options
The Mets need to find a starting catcher and starting center fielder this offseason, and they should be looking for players who are above average on both sides of the ball.
When it comes to center field, George Springer is a legitimate two-way star who still profiles out there. It will likely take an enormous contract in terms of both years and dollars to get him, so a more realistic option could be Jackie Bradley Jr., who is coming off a strong offensive season and is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball.
Elsewhere, there's a chance Nolan Arenado and Francisco Lindor could be available via trade. Both of them are generational talents who are superb defenders, so the Mets would be wise to inquire as to whether they're legitimate trade options and what they might cost to acquire.
So how exactly do the Mets fix their defense?
As noted above, they need to start by no longer playing guys out of position and relying on one-dimensional players, and finding new everyday players for catcher and center field.
Depending on whether the Mets trade any of their key pieces this offseason, improving the defense could make it harder to find consistent playing time for Davis and Smith -- though Smith really needs to be playing every day. Something will have to give.
There's also the question of what to do with Robinson Cano. If he's on the infield along with Gimenez and McNeil, there's no room there for Rosario In that case, Cano would likely be the DH, which could complicate things for Smith.
But the Mets need to finally address their defensive shortcomings, regardless of how difficult it might be to make all the pieces fit.