It was 2012, years before the Mets would graduate their talented young arms, trade for Yoenis Cespedes and win the National League pennant, thus ushering in a post-rebuilding era for a franchise that now can dream of winning the World Series.
Back then, gallows humor was a coping mechanism for general manager Sandy Alderson, who famously quipped about a collection of retreads and unprovens who comprised the Mets’ outfield.
“Outfield?” he said. “What outfield?”
Four years later, with baseball’s annual winter meetings taking place this week, Alderson faces the opposite challenge. Now the Mets have too many outfielders, with Jay Bruce or Curtis Granderson — or potentially both — expected to be traded.
“We’ve come a long way, right?” Alderson said this past week. “From no outfield to an overcrowded one? That’s a nicer problem to have, and we’ll deal with it next week in some way.”
Re-signing Cespedes to a four-year, $110-million deal last week set the stage for the next item on the Mets’ to-do list: clearing the glut from their outfield.
Team officials believe that talks have progressed to the point that a move is near. A good chance exists that either Bruce or Granderson will be traded before Alderson & Co. leave the winter meetings.
Officials are not ruling out trading both, which would make the Mets far less lefthanded hitting-heavy and, more importantly, clear nearly $30 million in salary for next season. Such a windfall could change the Mets’ approach to the offseason.
For instance, they could jump into areas they have avoided thus far, such as the market for a top-flight closer. Even before Jeurys Familia’s arrest on domestic violence charges that likely will bring him a suspension, the Mets already were interested in bolstering the bullpen. They hope to ease the workload on Familia and Addison Reed.
Trading both Bruce and Granderson could force the Mets to rely upon Juan Lagares and Michael Conforto, but it still is one of the options the Mets could pursue because both Bruce and Granderson have drawn interest from multiple teams, with the chatter increasing after Cespedes re-signed.
According to sources, the Mets’ preference is to keep Granderson and deal Bruce, but the decision likely will be guided by which fetches the best return. Sources said Granderson has drawn more interest, but rival executives believe that Bruce would be the most likely to bring back the better return.
Granderson, 35, hit .237 with 30 homers in 2016. He’s owed $15 million next season, the final year of his contract. Bruce, 29, hit .250 with 33 homers between the Reds and Mets. He’s owed $13 million next season, also the final year of his deal.
“We’re always looking for value,” said Alderson, who declined to specify what he’d want back for one of the outfielders.
The Mets could use the trade to bring back prospects or address their relief needs. They could use a righthander for the back end of the bullpen and an established lefty specialist.
For Alderson, those needs are among the few glaring holes left on the roster.
“With the exception of a bench spot or two, the position players look pretty solid, starting pitching looks pretty good,” he said. “And there’s some questions in the bullpen that we’ll have to answer, either internally or external sources, free agents or trades or what have you.”
Though catchers Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki struggled last season, the Mets still have given no indication that they will aggressively pursue an alternative, even after the Diamondbacks unexpectedly non-tendered Welington Castillo and made him a free agent.
“There’s a capacity for growth there and improvement,” Alderson said last week of the Mets’ internal catching options. “We’ve seen it in the past. And there’s no reason that we can’t get back to that . . . Realistically, most of that improvement is going to come from within.”
Indeed, the Mets’ focus heading into the winter meetings is clear. “What outfield?” has turned into “what outfielder should we trade?”
By the end of the meetings, the Mets expect to have sorted out the glut in their outfield, or to have drastically reconfigured it.