Good news first? OK. Yoenis Cespedes, bad leg and all, usually is a terrific leftfielder. That was on display Monday night in the third inning when he scooped up a soft-rolling single and surgically cut down Willson Contreras with a laser to the plate.
As for the ball that went through his legs in the eighth inning, when Cespedes gave a run back in the Mets’ 5-1 loss to the Cubs? Well, nobody’s perfect.
Truthfully, leftfield is where Cespedes belongs. He clearly feels more comfortable there, and now his achy quadriceps has given him a convenient excuse to shift back to left, likely for the bulk of the remaining season.
Cespedes still wasn’t moving that great Monday night, and Terry Collins said he might have to rethink his plan to use him in centerfield Tuesday night for one of the last times. “He looked cautious,” Collins said.
The Mets apparently got as far as they could while thinking outside-the-box with Cespedes. Sandy Alderson traded for him last year minutes before the deadline with the idea of making him a centerfielder, and we can all agree the plan worked out quite well for both sides.
But Priority No. 1 now is keeping Cespedes functioning in the batter’s box, so that pushes everything else further down the list. Plus the Mets have bigger issues than having to experiment with Michael Conforto in centerfield.
Steven Matz didn’t make it out of the sixth inning Monday night, and the Mets will be holding their breath until Noah Syndergaard hits triple-digits Tuesday night in his first start since his bizarre arm malfunction July 8 at Citi Field.
Cespedes needs to be protected, and when Collins told him he’d be better off in left, the suggestion was met by enthusiastic approval. With the opt-out, this is basically a contract year for Cespedes, and any dip in production will hurt not only the Mets but his potential earning power. They just have to hope that in maybe pricing himself off the Mets, Cespedes gets them back to the playoffs first.
With Cespedes out of the mix in center, Collins intends to go to a matchup situation, with Juan Lagares against lefties and the newly promoted Conforto otherwise. The Conforto gambit is the tricky part here. But this is a simple matter of preserving Cespedes. Without him, they’re toast. The Mets can figure out the rest on the fly.
“We have a guy in the middle of our lineup who’s here because he’s a slugger,” Collins said, “and if we’re asking him to do something that’s going to keep him from slugging, we’ve got to find another answer.”
It’s not ideal, having to move Cespedes back. Conforto in left gives Collins much less to worry about, and it’s often easier there to make up for mistakes. That configuration helped get the Mets to a World Series last year. But with the Mets forced to get creative again, will they end up putting too much on Conforto’s plate fresh from Triple-A Las Vegas?
Conforto just spent the past three weeks getting both his head and swing right for the majors. Is it the right time for a position switch? Probably not. But what are the options? It still is the outfield. The Mets aren’t handing Conforto a first baseman’s mitt — at least not yet. He’ll get to use his same glove.
“Be an athlete, go make plays,” Conforto said. “These things tend to happen.”
Conforto had the confidence to handle last year’s promotion straight from Double-A Binghamton, so moving over a few feet and standing in a new patch of grass shouldn’t be a soul-crushing experience. A hobbled Cespedes can’t provide as much of a cushion for Conforto as the Mets probably would like, and the 35-year-old Curtis Granderson isn’t exactly fleet-footed either. But the Mets won’t know for sure how it looks until they try the experimental alignment.
The Mets have rolled the dice in plenty of other areas, from squeezing in Wilmer Flores at first base — he homered again Monday night — to signing Jose Reyes for third. Centerfield is just one more. And it’s not as if they have a choice any longer.