Who should fill out Mets' outfield in 2023? Breaking down the options

Brandon Nimmo TREATED ART 2021
Brandon Nimmo TREATED ART 2021

The Mets are going to have plenty of work to do this offseason when it comes to dealing with the huge Jacob deGrom question and rebuilding a starting rotation that has just Max Scherzer as a guaranteed returning member for 2023.

New York is also going to have a ton on its plate while rebuilding a bullpen where nearly every key reliever -- including closer Edwin Diaz -- is set for free agency.

Things are much calmer as far as the offense goes.

The Mets should be returning most of the core group that had them in the top five in runs scored last season. But a huge part of that core is about to become a free agent.

That would be Brandon Nimmo, who helped make the top of the Mets' lineup go last season while being one of the most valuable players in baseball. Via fWAR, Nimmo was the 27th-most valuable player in 2022, just behind Alex Bregman and just ahead of Julio Rodriguez. So Nimmo is damn good.

And while much of Nimmo's value comes from his on-base ability, he has also turned himself into an asset in center field, where he was in the 91st percentile this season in OAA (Outs Above Average).

Jul 29, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (9) circles the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot Park.
Jul 29, 2022; Miami, Florida, USA; New York Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo (9) circles the bases after hitting a two-run home run during the eighth inning against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot Park.

As is the case with Diaz, the Mets have serious interest in bringing Nimmo back. And Nimmo has interest in returning.

Nimmo is represented by Scott Boras, so this won't be the easiest deal in the world to pull off. But the Mets have a good working relationship with Boras, who also represents Scherzer.

And when it comes to how the Mets shape their outfield going into 2023, much of it hinges on whether Nimmo is back.

IF BRANDON NIMMO IS BACK

If Nimmo returns, he will again be in center field, with Starling Marte very likely flanking him in right.

It's also safe to believe that if Nimmo returns it will be on a deal that's for perhaps four or five years, which would shore up the Mets' outfield and top of the lineup for years to come since Marte is under team control through 2025.

That means that if Nimmo is re-signed, two of the three Mets outfield spots will very likely be in good hands for the next three seasons.

Starling Marte and Brandon Nimmo
Starling Marte and Brandon Nimmo

What about the other outfield spot?

The Mets have some strong internal options for it -- Jeff McNeil and Mark Canha.

McNeil started 44 games in the outfield in 2022 (33 in left field, 11 in right) and started 95 at second base. As things currently stand, McNeil is likely penciled in as the Mets' second baseman in 2023. But there are a few things that could change that.

For instance, if the Mets sign a big free agent like Trea Turner or Carlos Correa, the Mets could shift McNeil to the outfield. The Mets could also slide McNeil to the outfield in a scenario where Eduardo Escobar and Brett Baty split time at third base and Luis Guillorme plays second. But Guillorme is better suited for a bench role, so his presence causing McNeil to slide to the outfield seems unlikely.

Then there's the case of Canha as a starting outfielder, which is a bit tricky.

Canha got on base at a very strong .367 clip in 2022, and his on-base ability has been his calling card since 2019. But he slugged just .403 this season, hitting 13 homers and 24 doubles along the way. So while Canha is a solid offensive player, he isn't perfectly suited to be an everyday outfielder -- especially for a Mets team in need of more pop that also has a returning Nimmo.

Still, the Mets with Nimmo in tow would be in solid shape with him, Marte, McNeil and Canha as their main outfield options. Theoretically, that would allow them to dedicate most of their offseason dollars to the rotation, bullpen, a full-time DH, and possibly a big bat for the infield.

Mark Canha
Mark Canha

IF BRANDON NIMMO LEAVES

The Mets will be left scrambling a bit, at least initially.

A Mets team without Nimmo means there will be a gaping hole at the top of the lineup and in center field. And while the team could theoretically slide Marte from right to center, there's a reason why Nimmo played center over Marte last season.

The Mets also don't have any outfield help coming from the minors any time soon -- at least when it comes to guys they can expect to be starters at any point in 2023.

Khalil Lee is on the 40-man roster, but hasn't had any big league success. The other outfield options on the 40-man roster are Mark Vientos, who is likely a DH-only player, and Dominic Smith, who is a DFA candidate.

Top outfield prospect Alex Ramirez is a special talent and could possibly debut at some point in 2024, but he needs a lot more development. The Mets could slide infield prospect Ronny Mauricio to the outfield (something they've been contemplating), but he has yet to make his big league debut and needs to refine his approach at the plate.

So if Nimmo leaves, expect the Mets to find a starting outfielder via free agency. A look at that list beyond Aaron Judge leaves a lot to be desired, especially the center fielders, where there really isn't a starting caliber one among the bunch. New York could sign a corner outfielder like Trey Mancini or Andrew Benintendi and shift Marte to center, but those options won't move the needle much.

Translation? The Mets should make a strong effort to bring Nimmo back.