Michael Conforto is set to hit free agency after this season which means his days with the New York Mets could be over before we know it. Re-signing him helps solve the question of “who plays right field?” for the foreseeable future. Conforto has proven to be an exceptional major league player over the years in spite of the occasional lengthy slump and practically annual injury that seems to sideline him.
Finding a replacement hasn’t been a huge topic of discussion just yet. However, there may be one guy already with the team who can replace him.
It’s not Billy McKinney. It’s not some other prospect to make a sudden leap to the major leagues. Nope. I want to talk about the idea of Jeff McNeil replacing Conforto in right field next season.
Preposterous? You betchya. But is it that outrageous? I don’t think so.
Jeff McNeil is expected to play more outfield for the Mets this year which may be part of an experiment
When I heard Jeff McNeil was going to play some outfield upon his return from the IL, my first thought was “where in the outfield?” Dominic Smith is entrenched in left field and McNeil has zero experience as a center fielder. This has me thinking right field is the spot he could see the most action at.
McNeil has played a little right field in the past so it’s not a big expectation. Mostly used as a left fielder when playing beyond the infield dirt, it’s the easiest transition to make.
Moving McNeil from second base to right field also solves another question: what do the Mets do about Robinson Cano? I think fans almost universally want to see him released (myself included). With no indication that this is actually what will happen, it will allow Cano to slot in at second base and still keep McNeil in the everyday lineup.
The best case scenario: Michael Conforto stays and this isn’t even a discussion
Letting Conforto walk and moving McNeil to right field as the starter will not make the Mets a better team. It just puts another good hitter at a position he’s not so familiar with. This is the kind of move you might make in desperation.
I don’t view the Mets as a desperate club. They may have guys playing out of position. This doesn’t mean it will or should continue.
If Conforto does leave the ball club after this year and McNeil replaces him in right field, the one thing every fan will put in a request for is some sort of upgrade elsewhere. I can’t see this front office downgrading the roster completely. Losing Conforto means spending the money he turned down elsewhere. Is it a starting pitcher, bullpen help, or a top player at another position?
It will be interesting to see how the Mets move forward this offseason with several players set to hit free agency and a couple remaining with the club but not at their best positions.
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McNeil’s positional flexibility has been put on full display over the last few years. He’s a nice safety net to have whenever this ball club wants to mix things up.