PHILADELPHIA - A year ago, the question hovering around the Mets was "what outfield?" Now, it's more like "which outfielders?"
Manager Terry Collins commences his juggling act sometime later this week, when centerfielder Juan Lagares is expected to be activated from the disabled list. Once he returns, Collins must once more figure out how to get playing time for four players in three spots.
It's a challenge Collins faced in spring training, and now just as it was then, the manager has no easy answers about how to divide the playing time.
"I don't necessarily like it," Collins said. "But it's something we've just got to do."
Last season, general manager Sandy Alderson made a joke about his lackluster outfield. But this season, Lagares joins a group that includes Curtis Granderson, Chris Young and Eric Young Jr.
A few rules will stand. Collins doesn't envision sitting any one player for more than three days in a row. Meanwhile, Granderson will remain anchored in rightfield despite a season-opening slump that dipped his average to .129.
Collins has been steadfast in his belief that the only way for the $60 million outfielder to get on track is to stay in the starting lineup.
"In the case of Grandy, he doesn't want to sit," Collins said. "He knows he's struggling but he doesn't want to sit. He's on the same page. The only way to get out of this thing is to get out there and keep swinging."
But aside from Granderson's presence, Collins faces plenty of decisions with the rest of his alignment.
Leftfielder Eric Young Jr. has been all that the Mets had hoped. Since scuffling in the season's first homestand, Young has posted a .366 on-base percentage, allowing the Mets to take advantage of his speed atop the lineup. He has swiped 12 of 13 bases to begin the season.
Centerfielder Chris Young is hitting only .194 but has smashed two home runs in his last three starts, giving the Mets a plus glove in the field and a power bat at the plate since returning from a hamstring injury on April 18.
The Mets would be content to keep playing all three.
But Lagares had arguably been the team's most valuable player when he went down with a hamstring injury. The Mets hope he continues to be the two-way threat he was at the start of the season.
Lagares is hitting .314 with a .471 slugging percentage in his first 55 plate appearances. That output had been paired with his usual brilliance in centerfield, where he has once again flashed the range that put him on the radar last year.
Collins has already begun mapping out various scenarios for the Mets' upcoming series in Colorado, when Lagares is expected to rejoin the team. However, the manager admitted that he has yet to decide exactly how he will slice up the playing time.
He intends to meet with his four outfielders this week.
"It's a situation where we've got to get each one of them at-bats," Collins said. "So, are we going to rotate them? I'm not sure how that's going to be done. But for sure there are going to be nights where somebody's got to be off."