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Center field, second base in limbo for Mets in 2017

Cespedes could opt out; rotation, 'pen, corner OF spots anchored heading into offseason
October 10, 2016

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Céspedes is about to become the most interesting man in baseball.Fresh off a 2016 season in which a banged-up Cespedes was their most valuable offensive player, the Mets will spend this winter trying to figure out the mercurial outfielder's next move. Cespedes can opt out of

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Céspedes is about to become the most interesting man in baseball.
Fresh off a 2016 season in which a banged-up Cespedes was their most valuable offensive player, the Mets will spend this winter trying to figure out the mercurial outfielder's next move. Cespedes can opt out of the final two years of his three-year, $75-million contract shortly after the World Series, and he is a strong bet to do so.
Then what? Will the Mets re-sign a player who delivered them to the postseason two years in a row? Will they gamble that at age 31, Cespedes' days as a superstar are just about complete? And if that's the case, how can the Mets possibly replace his bat in the middle of their lineup?
Mets persevere through injury-plagued 2016
All of that will be on general manager Sandy Alderson's mind once October ends and the offseason begins. With respect to so many other, smaller decisions the Mets must make over the coming months, Cespedes' future will color their entire winter. The rest of it should look something like this:
Arbitration-eligible: C Travis d'Arnaud, C René Rivera, 1B Lucas Duda, IF Wilmer Flores, OF Justin Ruggiano, RHP Jacob deGrom, RHP Jeurys Familia, RHP Jim Henderson, Matt Harvey, RHP Addison Reed, RHP Zack Wheeler, LHP Josh Edgin.
Free agents: OF Alejandro De Aza, IF Kelly Johnson, IF Neil Walker, LHP Jerry Blevins, RHP Bartolo Colon, RHP Fernando Salas.
Options: OF Cespedes (can opt out of contract), LHP Jonathon Niese ($10 million team option with two $500,000 buyouts for 2017 and '18).

Rotation: In theory, Harvey, deGrom and Steven Matz will all be fully healed from their season-ending surgeries by Spring Training, joining Noah Syndergaard, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Wheeler as starting pitching options in camp. But the Mets know better than to expect everyone to be healthy, particularly considering the uncertainty of Harvey's thoracic outlet syndrome surgery and Matz's lengthy injury history. If Colon is as willing to return on a team-friendly deal as he was last winter, the Mets could use his services -- even if he winds up pitching exclusively out of the bullpen. But Colon, who wants 11 more wins to pass Juan Marichal's record 243 by a Dominican-born pitcher, may not be willing to do so at age 43. In-house, Gabriel Ynoa is one of the few rotation depth pieces the Mets still possess.

Bullpen: This was a strength of the Mets in 2016 and should continue to be going forward, assuming Familia and Reed's career-high appearance totals don't result in any long-term ill effects. Though Blevins is a free agent and may not return, Edgin and Josh Smoker give the Mets multiple in-house lefties to replace him. The Mets will also scour free agency for one or two arms to construct a bridge to Familia and Reed. Though his club has already been linked to Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman, Alderson detests paying top dollar for relievers.

Catcher: It would make sense for the Mets to pursue a free-agent starting catcher, considering their lack of production at the position. But the best available backstop, Wilson Ramos, may not be ready for Opening Day, and the options behind him range from slightly flawed to significantly so. That would describe the current state of Mets catchers, as well. Now almost 28 years old, d'Arnaud has never enjoyed a full, healthy season. Backup Kevin Plawecki has not distinguished himself despite many chances to do so, while Rivera does not possess a starter's offensive skillset. Regardless, all three should return in some form next season.
First base: Though Duda missed four months due to a lower-back stress fracture, he remains the Mets' top option at first base heading into the winter. At the least, he and Flores can platoon at the position. But the Mets may also use Spring Training to test outfielder Michael Conforto at first, where he could start if Duda's health issues linger. No. 2 prospect Dominic Smith, the Mets' best long-term solution at first base, remains at least a year away from the Majors. Loney, whom the Mets acquired to replace Duda this summer, won't be back.
Second base: Other than outfield, this position holds the most intrigue for the Mets. Before Walker underwent season-ending back surgery, the Mets openly discussed their desire to sign him to a long-term deal. They still have interest heading into the winter, but perhaps not at the same price they once would have considered. If the Mets don't reacquire Walker to be their starting second baseman, they may dive into an imperfect pool of internal options. Flores can play here, but he is better suited as a platoon option against left-handed pitchers. Shortstop prospect Gavin Cecchini tried his hand at second base late this season, and he should receive significant work there come spring. The Mets also have more interest in re-signing Johnson than they did a year ago. Then there is José Reyes, who hasn't played much second since his initial days in New York. He may get some run here, as well as at third base.

Perhaps the Mets' most intriguing second baseman is T.J. Rivera, who hit .369 in 18 games after claiming the starting job from Flores in September. Despite organizational doubts about his hitting approach, Rivera has accomplished enough that he should not get lost in the shuffle.
Shortstop:Asdrúbal Cabrera more than earned his keep this season with 23 home runs and an .810 OPS, and he will be the unquestioned starter heading into next year. But New York's farm system is also stocked with shortstop prospects, most notably Cecchini and Amed Rosario. The former could provide a quick fix if injury again strikes Cabrera, while the latter may debut by season's end. Matt Reynolds will also be in the picture at shortstop, perhaps as Cabrera's Opening Day backup.

Third base: On paper, this position still belongs to David Wright. But the captain will be 34 years old, returning from neck surgery and still battling spinal stenosis on a daily basis. Even in a best-case scenario, he won't be capable of playing every day. The Mets are no longer enthralled with the idea of having Flores serve as Wright's primary backup, and Eric Campbell isn't the answer at third, either. A push for a free agent -- former Met Justin Turner makes sense here, as someone capable of playing multiple infield positions -- could be the answer. Should the Mets stay in-house, Reyes profiles similarly -- albeit with reduced power and defense -- at a lower cost.

Outfield: Everything depends on Cespedes. If the Mets retain him, they will have four corner outfielders -- Cespedes, Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Conforto -- for two spots, with no natural center fielder among them. Granderson certainly is capable of playing the position, as he proved down the stretch, but at age 36 that's not an ideal scenario. The Mets could also trade Bruce, but they would be selling low on him following his poor stretch run. If Brandon Nimmo is ready to start on a regular basis -- a big if -- he could be an answer in center field. Then there's Juan Lagares, who seems limited to platoon work at this point in his career. Can he be more? There are no easy answers for the Mets at their most complicated position.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.