Cleon Jones was the starting left fielder for the New York Mets on Opening Day in 1969 and again in 1973 when the club went to their first two World Series. The team has been back only three more times but there is a theme running in each.
George Foster, Rickey Henderson, and Michael Cuddyer all have something in common. They were the starting left fielders for the Mets in 1986, 2000, and 2015 on Opening Day. By the end of the season, they were either gone entirely from the organization or placed on the bench.
The Mets have needed a left field upgrade midyear in each of their last three World Series seasons
Foster had started every Opening Day for the Mets in left field since 1982. His regular season results were mixed. If he didn’t have such a high reputation as a slugger and such a big salary, maybe he would have been remembered differently.
Foster was a .286/.356/.514 hitter for the Cincinnati Reds before joining the Mets. He batted over .300 several times and clobbered baseballs much further and with more frequency than he ever did with the Mets. His numbers declined drastically in New York and in the final year of his career, 1986, the team saw enough.
The Mets released Foster on August 7. They were able to improve the left field spot with Mookie Wilson, Danny Heep, and rookie Kevin Mitchell. It ended up being the smart move. The Mets used their depth and the versatility of their players to selectively pick who would take over the position for good. They held this up through the World Series. Game 7 began with Mitchell at the position but Wilson would later move there to finish it off following a pinch-hitting appearance from Lenny Dykstra.
A similar thing happened in 2000 except with the Mets not having the same results. Rickey Henderson had just put together an incredible age 40 season in 1999 and was set to start regularly for the team in 2000. After hitting just .219 and having more interest in the locker room card games, he was released on May 13.
A few different players would take over the position but it was Benny Agbayani who would win it. This helped give the 2000 Mets three productive outfielders with a nice mix of pop, average, and getting on base. A future postseason home run would cement this as a wise decision on the Mets’ part.
Then there was the most recent instance of the Mets making a big change from Opening Day to the final curtain during a World Series season. The 2015 campaign began with free agent Michael Cuddyer at the position. He underperformed in the first few months. When he got hurt, the team promoted Michael Conforto and gave him an opportunity.
Even bigger than Conforto, the Mets went out and made their big trade for Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes would actually play more games in center field for the 2015 Mets than left field but he still saw a lot of time at the spot we remember him at most. Combined, these two Mets are very different points of their careers made left field a much more productive spot in the lineup.