Nimmo, Bader embrace OF shakeup: 'The intention is to win'

February 19th, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- was vacationing in Italy early this offseason when new Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns called with a query. Several standout defensive center fielders were available on the open market, including , Kevin Kiermaier and Michael A. Taylor. How might Nimmo feel if the Mets acquired one of them, thereby pushing him to left?

“I told him, ‘Honestly, my goal at this point in my career is to win a World Series. If you think that creating a better outfield defense or adding these guys to our roster is going to help our chances of winning a World Series, then I’ll do whatever it takes to do that,’” Nimmo said. “I kind of just put my trust in him that if you think this will make us better, fine by me.”

Ultimately, the Mets did sign Bader, who ranks statistically among the top defensive center fielders in the Majors today. Manager Carlos Mendoza confirmed on Monday that when Bader is in a game, he’ll line up in center, which will make left field Nimmo’s primary position.

“That goes to show you the type of player Nimmo is and what he represents for the team and the organization,” Mendoza said. “He’s willing to do whatever it takes.”

Considering Nimmo’s career arc, it would have been fair for him to decline the position change. A natural center fielder, Nimmo spent much of his early career at the corners, in large part because he wasn’t able to channel his innate athletic gifts into an elite defensive profile. In 2020, Nimmo produced -4 Outs Above Average over 44 games in center, which placed him 38th out of 39 eligible big leaguers at the position.

That’s when he decided to do something about it, training to improve his sprint speed. On a tip from the Mets’ analytics team, Nimmo also began playing deeper in center, making it easier for him to catch balls over his head while using his newfound fleetness to run down those in front of him. He produced +4 OAA in 2021 and +6 the season after that. Not only did Nimmo improve at the position, but he used that revamped skillset as a platform to earn an eight-year, $162 million contract. He’s now one of the highest-paid Mets.

Despite all of it, Nimmo had no interest in pulling rank on Bader.

“I’m a good center fielder,” Nimmo said. “But if we’re bringing someone else in, then we’re going to have a really dang good outfield.”

The raw materials are certainly there, considering Bader might be the best center fielder in the league defensively. Since his first full season in 2018, Bader has produced 58 OAA, tied with Kiermaier for the most at center field in MLB and more than eight times as many as Nimmo over that stretch. And he’s done so despite battling injuries and sharing playing time over his years in St. Louis, the Bronx and Cincinnati.

Bader’s primary obstacle has been health. Now with the Mets on a one-year, $10.5 million contract, he says he is fully healthy following sports hernia surgery late last year.

“The intention is to win,” Bader said. “I’m bringing my energy. I know what I’m capable of in terms of helping a team win.”

To be clear, this situation is not as simple as stating that Bader is the Mets’ center fielder, Nimmo their left fielder. As talented as Bader is defensively, he has struggled to hit at the highest level, carrying a career .706 OPS into this season. There will be days when New York benches him based on matchups, which will open center field back up to Nimmo.

That’s why Nimmo intends to take reps in both center and left this spring. His only request is that Mendoza keep him in the loop a few days in advance about what he’s planning.

Other than that, neither Nimmo nor Bader seems to mind much who plays where.

“For me, it’s just being versatile,” Nimmo said, “knowing that we have an amazing center fielder in Harrison that we brought in, someone that’s been at the top of the list for the last few years defensively.”

Added Bader, on Nimmo: “I’ve had my career pretty much alongside him as he’s done what he’s done, which has been awesome to watch from afar. I just have tremendous respect for his game, and I’m happy to be on his side.”