SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Job one for the Mets remains bringing back star slugger Yoenis Cespedes. But if he proves to be elusive, the Mets have received early indications that they have the trade chips and flexibility needed to explore a replacement.
It was perhaps one of the biggest takeaways from this week’s general managers’ meetings, where sources said Thursday that the Mets have received trade inquiries about lefthanded-hitting outfielders Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce.
Moving one of those outfielders could make sense for the Mets even if Cespedes — who was named a National League Silver Slugger Award winner Thursday — re-signs to play leftfield. But they would become especially important as trade pieces if the Mets have to find an alternative to Cespedes, who hit .280 with 31 homers and 86 RBIs, a strong springboard into free agency.
“I think people are aware that we are lefthanded,” said general manager Sandy Alderson, who refused to disclose specific names involved in early trade talks. “I wouldn’t be any more specific than that because we’ve had inquiries across the board. We have four or five guys in that category.”
Both Granderson and Bruce have one year left on their current deals, with relatively affordable salaries, meaning that they would be attractive to a wide spectrum of teams. Conforto, 23, won’t be a free agent until 2022, and clubs place a premium on team control for those who may become frontline players.
Alderson characterized the trade chatter as “very preliminary discussions,” far from even laying groundwork for a deal. But a source said it’s too early in the offseason to rule out potential trades involving Conforto, Granderson or Bruce, given that all three have varying degrees of value.
Granderson, 35, had a .237/.335/.464 slash line with 30 homers, his highest total since hitting 43 with the Yankees in 2012. Though he played all three outfield spots, he is best suited for one of the corners, and his power has been a constant despite his streakiness.
Granderson is owed $15 million in the final year of his contract, a relatively modest sum in a season in which the one-year qualifying offer is $17.2 million. He also is known as one of the game’s best citizens, winning various awards for his community work. On Wednesday, he won the Marvin Miller Man of the Year award by a vote of his peers around the league.
Bruce, 29, had a .250/.309/.506 slash line with 33 homers this season. Though he struggled after his trade from the Reds to the Mets — a .219 average with eight homers — rival executives have pegged him as an attractive candidate because of his ability to hit with power.
Like Granderson, the $13 million left on Bruce’s contract is a relatively inexpensive commitment, one that is less than the qualifying offer. Earlier this offseason, the Mets exercised the option on Bruce’s contract, anticipating that he likely would generate interest.
Conforto, 23, is coming off a tough season in which he hit .220. The former first-round draft pick was expected to be a major part of the Mets’ lineup but twice was demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas.
“It was just more mental than anything else,” Alderson said. “We’re very confident that he will bounce back. He’s a better player than he showed last year.”
Conforto could factor prominently if Cespedes can’t be re-signed and the Mets simply stick with their remaining outfielders, which Alderson said is a potential option. But it appears that the Mets value balance in the lineup, making the addition of a righthanded hitter a critical part of their offseason plan.
In free agency, the Mets have been linked to righthanded slugger Jose Bautista and switch-hitting centerfielder Dexter Fowler, though neither player appears to be a priority.
That distinction still goes to Cespedes, whose representatives held talks with the Mets twice in the last two weeks. Though the talks have been preliminary, there already have been indications that these discussions have taken a different tone from the ones last season, when Cespedes and the Mets struck a deal in January only after his market dried up.
Said Alderson: “With the experience we had last year, and the experience we’ve had so far, I think both sides are comfortable with the level of communication.”
Alderson expects that dialogue to continue, maintaining the Mets’ hopes of a resolution by the end of the winter meetings. “The market will drive this one way or the other, both timing and other aspects,” he said.
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