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With spring training rapidly approaching and Opening Day less than two months away, the Mets could be about to enter the season with defensive liabilities at three positions.
We'll get into the nitty gritty of the Mets' current situation in a bit, but it should first be noted that team president Sandy Alderson went out of his way earlier this offseason to call himself out for how the team has operated in the past with regard to not emphasizing team defense -- adding that it was one of the things they'd look to get better at.
The Mets improved their defense behind the plate by signing James McCann and added one of the best defensive shortstops in the game by trading for Francisco Lindor. That's the good.
As things currently stand, the Mets are set to go into the season with Brandon Nimmo in center field, Dom Smith in left field, and J.D. Davis at third base.
Part of this is not the Mets' fault.
The continued lack of clarity over whether there will be a universal designated hitter in 2021 has put the Mets and some other National League teams in a bind.
With the Mets' pursuit of George Springer earlier this offseason, they were clearly ready to pounce on a center fielder before knowing what the plan was with the DH in 2021.
Springer is now in Toronto and the Mets' center fielder is still Nimmo. And it's his presence there that is more worrisome than Smith in left field or Davis at third base -- though all are cause for concern.
Before going further, it should be pointed out that Nimmo, Davis, and Smith are not to be blamed for their defensive shortcomings at center field, third base, and left field, respectively.
Nimmo profiles as a left fielder and is miscast in center.
Davis has worked tirelessly to improve his defense at third base, but the success simply hasn't been there.
Smith is a slick-fielding first baseman who is blocked there by Pete Alonso, was thrust into left field, and has done his best when asked to play there.
With third base perhaps the easiest fix at the moment because the situation isn't reliant on an outside factor like an agreement on the universal DH, let's talk about Davis...
Davis was worth -8 DRS in 34 games at third base in 2020. Extrapolate that over a full season and you get someone who is arguably unplayable at the position.
SNY's Andy Martino reported Monday that the Mets have always considered it "more likely than not" that Davis would open the season as the starting third baseman. And he became one of their only two options (along with Luis Guillorme) when Amed Rosario and Andres Gimenez were traded to the Cleveland Indians in the Lindor deal.
As one weak link, Davis' defense at third base might be tolerable. But as part of a three-pronged problem with well below average defenders also in center field and left field, it's hard to make a case for the Mets not finding a solution for third.
The Mets have interest in signing Marwin Gonzalez, who would add a versatile, valuable piece to their bench. But Gonzalez, who has been an average to slightly above average defender at third base, could also be an option to start there.
Beyond Gonzalez, it could make sense (regardless of how likely a trade might be) to call the Chicago Cubs about Kris Bryant and the Cincinnati Reds about Eugenio Suarez.
The situation with Nimmo and Smith is harder to deal with at the moment.
In the event there is no universal DH in 2021, the Mets as presently constructed will likely have to use Nimmo in center and Smith in left. Before you ask, Michael Conforto is not an option to play center, nor should he be.
When it comes to Nimmo, who was tied with Aaron Hicks of the Yankees as the worst-rated defensive center fielder in 2020 per Outs Above Average, he should be removed for defense late in every close game and replaced with Albert Almora.
Regarding Smith, whose defense in left has been below average but not awful -- and whose bat has been elite -- he'll likely simply be in left field, for better or worse.
If there is a universal DH in 2021 -- something that one would think makes too much sense to not happen, even if it's at the last second -- the Mets will be in very good shape.
They could use Smith at first base and Alonso as the DH and slide Nimmo to left field.
In the above scenario, it can be argued that the Mets would have enough offensive firepower in the lineup to justify starting Almora in center field most days. But while Almora had an elite defensive season in center field in 2018, he has been average to slightly below average at the position since.
That means that the Mets should make a strong effort to add Jackie Bradley Jr. and stick him in center field if the universal DH is added.
Bradley, one of the best defensive center fielders in all of baseball and a career .239/.321/.412 hitter whose bat has some upside, would be the perfect finishing touch to an already very good offseason.
And his addition (along with the move of Nimmo to left) would take the Mets from having one of the worst defensive center fielders in baseball to one of the best.