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Mets position analysis: J.D. Davis, Dominic Smith or Yoenis Cespedes makes who's right in left a tricky question

Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes during a spring training

Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes during a spring training workout on Feb. 17 at Clover Park in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

During this pandemic-induced baseball hiatus, we examine the Mets as an organization, position by position. Today, leftfield.

The starter: Who was set to be the Mets’ season-opening starter in leftfield? J.D. Davis.

Who will make the most starts in left in 2020? Super-tricky question.

Leftfield is by far the Mets’ murkiest position this year, a timeshare of sorts for Davis, Dominic Smith and Yoenis Cespedes. That is two infielders — Davis’ natural position is third and Smith is a talented first baseman — and a 34-year-old enigma of a superstar who hasn’t played in almost two years because of heel surgeries in 2018 and a badly broken ankle in 2019.

The plan appears to be to give Davis, who broke out last year with a .307/.369/.527 slash line, most of the reps to start. He isn’t a perfect fit defensively at any position, but he hit enough last year to merit near-everyday at-bats.

Smith is right there with Davis in that he is an outfield convert — playing 45 games there the past two years — who performed well at the plate last year. He had a .282/.355/.525 slash line,  punctuating his and the Mets’ season with a walk-off homer in the finale in his only at-bat after returning from the injured list (left foot stress fracture). He isn’t a perfect fit defensively, either, but the Mets believe he could be passable with further practice.

And then there is Cespedes. Pre-pandemic, it looked as if he would open the season on the injured list. The biggest question was his stamina as he worked his way back from ankle surgery after the encounter with a wild boar on his ranch last May. Would he be physically able to play in leftfield every day? A few times a week? Is he just a pinch hitter?

General manager Brodie Van Wagenen has declined to provide updates on Cespedes' status during baseball’s hiatus.

If MLB implements the universal DH under an unorthodox partial season setup for 2020, all three of these hitters — especially Cespedes if he is healthy — would figure into those newfound at-bats.

The other options: If the Mets need someone other than the above three to play leftfield, it is a bad sign on the injury and/or production fronts. But they do have alternatives.

The easiest is third baseman Jeff McNeil, who played 71 games in left last year. Putting him in left, of course, would mean another person at third.

Backup outfielder Jake Marisnick could play left. More likely, centerfielder Brandon Nimmo would slide over to the corner when Marisnick enters in center.

The Mets don’t have any exciting upper-minors outfield prospects, but outfielder Ryan Cordell, a 28-year-old non-roster invitee, had a solid showing in spring training before the sports world stopped.

The future: Several of the above names could feasibly be the Mets’ long-term leftfielder.

If Davis can improve defensively and maintain offensively, it would be a terrific outcome for the Mets, who acquired him in a lower-profile trade with the Astros in Van Wagenen’s first offseason with the team. He is not scheduled to be a free agent until after the 2024 season.

Smith also won’t hit the open market until after 2024. His best career path probably involves a trade to a team for which he can play first base, but the Mets like him enough as a hitter and a person to keep him for now.

Nimmo has less team control — he’s a free agent after 2022 — but also could be the answer, especially if the Mets develop or add a true centerfielder.

Those names are particularly relevant in the long-term outlook because the Mets don’t have any big-time prospects in left. They have a few interesting names in the outfield — rightfielder Freddy Valdez, centerfielder Alexander Ramirez — but they are teenagers and many years away from the majors. Perhaps a third baseman such as Brett Baty or Mark Vientos eventually will change positions.

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