The incredibly versatile Jeff McNeil has done everything asked of him. Could the New York Mets use their Swiss Army man in center field?
It feels like a decade since the New York Mets had a productive bat in center field. This doesn’t account for the shared time Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo had at the position in 2018 or any other brief appearances men have had at the position. Specifically, it’s the time since Carlos Beltran left which has felt like an eternity.
Between Beltran and Juan Lagares, several journeymen and no-name players had their chance. Nobody stuck around for long. While I don’t see a long-term option currently on the roster, there are two players the Mets should experiment with at the position.
First, there’s Jeff McNeil. The Swiss Army man of the Mets can do anything. So, let’s see what he can do in center field.
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McNeil came up as a second baseman and was moved to third base at the start of the season with the hope he could play a lot of left field when Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie got healthy. Before he landed on the IL, McNeil played plenty at both positions. With the way the roster is shaping up, it’s going to be tough to put the best lineup on the field and keep McNeil at either spot.
There is one glaring hole McNeil could potentially fill. That’s the one out in center field.
I’m not the first to propose such an insane idea. Speculated in several spots including Ed Coleman on WFAN earlier this week, I’m all on board for mixing and matching. It’s a quality I’ve often lived my life by. Whether it’s trying to align a baseball team defensively as perfectly as possible or selecting all four available Slurpee flavors at 711, I’m willing to try anything.
At least temporarily, it’s worth seeing what McNeil can do. Lagares has not hit this year and the Mets now appear to have two quality offensive players who can fill in left field—defensive warts and all. Dominic Smith is receiving lots of playing time (finally) and J.D. Davis should share the time.
McNeil didn’t look too bad during his time as the Mets’ left field. I would imagine a switch to center field may not yield better results. However, for the sake of getting his bat capable of hitting well above .300 in the lineup every day alongside Smith or Davis, I’m willing to sacrifice a little on defense for the huge improvement on offense.
Similarly, I believe shortstop Amed Rosario is worth checking out in center field. Last summer, there was an idea about how the Mets could move him there to open up room for shortstop prospect Andres Gimenez. I still like the thought as did Rising Apple’s Judy Kamilhor who believes he’s the center fielder of the future in Flushing.
McNeil probably doesn’t have “center fielder” on any future W-2 form he fills out. He’ll remain a utility man for at least a little while longer. It’s this ability that makes him far more dangerous than your average .330 hitter.
Even in a time when the Mets are chasing a playoff spot from far behind, experimenting with the roster is essential. You can luck into a better lineup or discover a player is better than you originally believed.
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At least as a Band-Aid, it’s worth trying out. Make the most out of McNeil and ask him one more favor when he’s back and healthy.