PHILADELPHIA — Michael Conforto is returning from Triple-A Las Vegas and Yoenis Cespedes is hoping to stay anchored to leftfield, leaving the Mets to sort through mismatching puzzle pieces in a suddenly crowded outfield.
It’s unclear how Terry Collins will arrange his outfield in the long term, a quandary that came into focus after Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Phillies.
Conforto played leftfield before his demotion, but that spot now appears to be occupied. With a strained right quadriceps leaving Cespedes at less than 100 percent, he now prefers to play mostly leftfield — where he would cover less ground and perhaps ease the strain on his leg — rather than centerfield. “I’d rather play leftfield because I feel more comfortable and also it’s less work on my [right] leg,” he said through a translator. “If they give me the option, I’ll stay in leftfield.”
Collins left open the possibility that Cespedes will switch positions for good, especially if it means lessening the risk of an injury that could force an extended absence.
With Cubs lefthander Jon Lester starting Monday night in the opener of a three-game series, Collins said Cespedes will start in leftfield, where he is a Gold Glover. Juan Lagares appears in line to stay in center, where he also is a Gold Glover. Curtis Granderson likely will play rightfield, given that Conforto was held out against lefties even before his demotion.
If Cespedes plays leftfield, that leaves Conforto without a clear spot except for rightfield, and Granderson is hitting .362 with four doubles and three homers in his last 14 games.
Conforto played four games in rightfield during his minor-league demotion, which ended after Sunday’s game (to make room, Brandon Nimmo was sent back to Triple-A). Conforto’s brief exposure to rightfield with Las Vegas was his first action at that spot as a professional. Granderson and Conforto do not profile as centerfielders, further limiting the Mets’ options.
Cespedes playing rightfield would create more flexibility, but he reiterated that he’s not keen on trying to take on a position he’s never played. “I don’t want to,” said Cespedes, who went 0-for-3 with a walk in his first game since July 8.
Lagares has shown improvement against righties, making him a more attractive option for more playing time. He has a hit in four straight games, including a double, a triple and a homer.
“When you’re swinging the bat like you hope he does, he’s arguably the best centerfielder in the National League,” Collins said. “So when you believe he’s going to put the ball in play and get some hits, you let him go play centerfield and not worry about the offensive side. So especially now with the way he’s been swinging the bat, it’s a huge plus for us.”