Mets: Brandon Nimmo’s playing time in 2021 up in the air

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Brandon Nimmo #9 of the New York Mets prepares for a pitch during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Brandon Nimmo #9 of the New York Mets prepares for a pitch during a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on September 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images) /

New York Mets outfielder Brandon Nimmo will be most impacted by the team signing George Springer in free agency. However, Nimmo is still valuable to the Mets even if he loses his starting center fielder spot.

The New York Mets are acting proactively in free agency so far. On the heels of their four-year agreement with catcher James McCann, the expectation is that the Mets will turn to acquiring another starter as well as a center fielder.

In their pursuit of a center fielder, the Mets have a sincere interest in Astros outfielder George Springer, who is considered to be one of (if not) the best hitters on the market. Springer is coming off an abbreviated 2020 season that saw him hit 14 home runs and 32 RBI in only 51 games. While the Mets offense was one of the best in 2020, Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson are not wasting any time in trying to improve the club, and George Springer is a potential difference maker.

The Mets’ pursuit of Springer impacts Brandon Nimmo the most, who served as the team’s starting center fielder in 2020. Nimmo did not have a bad year in 2020. He amassed a .280/.404/.480 batting line with 8 home runs and 18 RBI in 55 games while entrenching himself as the club’s leadoff hitter. Looking at Nimmo’s production in 2020, he is certainly not the team’s weakness. His on-base skills and improved bat make him a solid contact hitter with above-average speed.

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So why are the Mets looking to replace him in the starting lineup? The simple explanation is because Springer is one of the best outfielders in the game. Over the past six seasons, Springer’s fWAR is 24.7, which is fifth amongst all MLB outfielders (only behind Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, and Bryce Harper).

Throw in Springer’s 13 defensive runs saved above average over the past two seasons, and you have a proven, well-rounded All-Star center fielder. Nimmo, meanwhile, has a much weaker arm that is not suited to center field, and he was worth a -5 defensive runs saved in 2020.

As CBS Sports pointed out, Commissioner Manfred is dragging his feet on making a decision whether the universal designated hitter will be enacted again in 2021.

Regardless of the league’s final decision on this matter, Nimmo may not be Springer, but he still is valuable to the Mets.

Signing Springer is not an indication that the Mets do not value Brandon Nimmo. Their chase for Springer is more an opportunity for owner Steve Cohen to make a serious splash and provide Mets fans with concrete evidence that he is committed to the team’s on-field success.

Assuming that the Mets are able to agree to terms with George Springer, there are still multiple scenarios that could play out that would allow Nimmo to receive significant playing time in the outfield. Many of these scenarios are concatenated, such as whether the designated hitter is adopted or not for 2021.

If the National League adopts the designated hitter, Nimmo’s pathway to regular playing time becomes significantly easier. Dominic Smith will get most of the time as the designated hitter, which would free up left field. Nimmo would easily slot in as the team’s primary left fielder. Robinson Cano’s suspension also indirectly helps Nimmo’s chances at regular playing time: Jeff McNeil, who was initially expected to get significant playing time in left field in 2021, is the likely candidate to play second base on a regular basis.

If the National League does not adopt the designated hitter as it currently stands, Nimmo will most likely start off as the fourth outfielder behind Dominic Smith, George Springer, and Michael Conforto. Unfortunately for Nimmo, Smith’s offensive value overcomes his defensive weaknesses, and the team is better off with Smith’s bat in the lineup. One avenue for Nimmo to receive regular playing time would be if Pete Alonso needs a break at first base or gets injured. In that event, Nimmo would slot in as the left fielder, and Smith would go to first base. Nimmo could also be used as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner.

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While it is possible the Mets could look to dangle Nimmo in a trade if the team were to sign Springer, the team should seriously consider keeping Nimmo around. He remains a valuable piece to the Mets outfield and an integral insurance policy if one of the Mets starting outfielders were to get injured over the course of the 162-game season.