The Mets have spent several years and more than a few players trying to find a solution in center field since Juan Lagares’ Gold Glove heyday.
Jake Marisnick and Billy Hamilton are just a few recent examples of the front office’s attempts to throw player depth at the problem by trading for defense-first center fielders.
A potential solution sits on the free agent market in longtime Houston Astros CF George Springer. A borderline great player and Connecticut native, Springer fits the Mets in many ways, but he does come with a significant question: How long will he actually play an effective center field?
At 31 years old, Springer’s defensive metrics are still solid. Per Statcast, he is in the 69th percentile in outs above average and the 62nd percentile in outfielder jump. His 1 out above average ranked 16th of 39 center fielders in 2020 (Nimmo was tied with the Yankees’ Aaron Hicks for last, at -4 OAA).
Talking to evaluators who have watched Springer closely through the years, a picture emerges of a defender who can remain workable in center field for several more seasons with the help of data-driven positioning, but would be an “elite” right fielder, in the words of one of those evaluators.
Assuming it would require at least a four- or five-year offer to land Springer, this leaves the Mets with a question: Would you take his excellent offense in exchange for a gradual decline in center field?
Or would you sign him with the idea of playing center for a year and then replacing Conforto in right (Conforto is set to enter his walk year in 2021)? Is the advantage of signing Springer offset too much by a potential positional crunch with Conforto?
For that matter, how much do you care about elite defense up the middle? The Mets reached the World Series with Cespedes in center, after all (and Wilmer Flores at short, but we digress).
Springer’s agent, Kenny Felder, did not respond to a question about his positional preference.