How does this all fit together?
As the Mets began workouts for pitchers and catchers Wednesday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on the official reporting date, manager Luis Rojas said he was struck by his players resembling “little kids” on the field.
“They were having fun, [pitchers] were throwing their sides, they were looking for feedback, so you can feel that energy being passed onto the field,” Rojas said in his opening Zoom press conference of the spring.
The Mets had an active offseason and might not be finished yet, with obvious upgrade room in the rotation and bullpen. And if the universal designated hitter is implemented, the Mets still might find room for improvement in center field with Jackie Bradley Jr.
For now, it’s a puzzle as Rojas and his staff try to find the balance between putting the best bats in the lineup and improving a defense that was among MLB’s worst last season.
Francisco Lindor’s arrival via a trade with Cleveland brought a Gold Glove to shortstop, and the Mets upgraded behind the plate by signing James McCann to a four-year contract worth $40.6 million. But the prospect of Brandon Nimmo in center field, Dominic Smith in left and J.D. Davis at third base leaves the Mets far from a finished product defensively.
“If you want to talk about some areas that have hurt us in the past even though we have some new personnel injected to the team, our defense has got to get better,” Rojas said. “That is one of our main things to work on during the spring.”
With their recent depth moves, the Mets have flexibility. Albert Almora Jr. brings a glove to the center-field equation and Jonathan Villar will receive reps at third base this spring, in addition to second, shortstop and outfield. Kevin Pillar is another center-field option.
Rojas said players such as Jeff McNeil and Davis aren’t set at one position, which leaves open the possibility of playing time for Luis Guillorme at second and third base, in addition to Villar.
“It’s really tough to commit to any role,” Rojas said. “I have to stick with our versatility. J.D. is a guy that has played left, too, and we’re thinking of that. He improved a lot at third base. We may see him probably playing more at third base than in left field, but we want to keep that versatility always open. Multiple guys are going to play multiple positions. That is where we stand right now and that is where our roster is.”
The team’s new outfield coach, Tony Tarasco, has been entrusted with Smith’s improvement in left field. Last season Smith moved between left field, first base and DH. If the DH were to return, Smith and Pete Alonso could share the role, in addition to first base. But without an agreement between MLB and the MLBPA that would perhaps be linked to an expanded postseason, the Mets can’t count on the DH.
“Dom is going to get his share of time [in left] and we are comfortable with his defense,” Rojas said. “Dom has got a good feel, he plays hard, he always tries to get better out there and with the addition of Tony Tarasco … I know he is going to be seeing some new things there to keep developing his skills in the outfield.”
Robinson Cano’s positive test for a banned performance-enhancing drug will cost him the entire season. Otherwise, the Mets likely would be entering spring training with Cano as the second baseman with McNeil at third.
“Robinson was secure hands all the time, but the range can be a little limited when you compare it to some other guys that can play second,” Rojas said. “We are going to have a little more range there and we have acquired guys that can play center, along with Brandon Nimmo who plays center, so we are looking forward this spring to see guys working in different positions and seeing different central lines.
“Defense is one of our targets to improve this spring so those combinations, we might be seeing it throughout the spring, different times with different guys playing in those two positions.”