CINCINNATI -- A tarp stretched over Great American Ball Park's infield about two hours prior to Tuesday's 14-4 Mets loss to the Reds, the afternoon's light drizzle pattering onto it. Despite the soggy conditions, Mets first-base coach Tom Goodwin trudged out of the Mets' clubhouse carrying a cloth mat and a nylon bag filled with baseballs. He set the mat down on the mud, stepped on it, and began hitting fly balls to left.
Mostly, Jose Reyes caught them, letting only a few baseballs soar over his head. As he walked off the field, the longtime shortstop joked that the difficult part was yet to come.
So began an experiment -- Reyes to the outfield -- that the Mets had pondered without executing for the better part of two years. They finally committed to it on Tuesday, starting Reyes in left for the first time since he was a 17-year-old at Class A Kingsport in 2000.
The results were mixed. While Reyes came away encouraged, he allowed a routine Billy Hamilton fly ball to land behind him for a second-inning double. Pitcher Chris Flexen threw up his hands in exasperation as the ball, which carried a 73-percent catch probability according to Statcast™, bounced to the turf.
"It was interesting," Reyes said of his experience. "I didn't have too many balls hit to me. I had the tough one by Hamilton -- that one is tough for a regular left fielder. ... Other than that, everything was good. Next time, now I have a better idea of what I can do better there."
This was not Reyes' first flirtation with the outfield. Earlier this season, he played an inning in center, an extension of the work he did during Spring Training. At the time, the Mets viewed outfield reps as a way to keep Reyes' bat in the lineup. But a slew of infield injuries prevented that idea from taking shape, while Reyes' .232 average in 117 games dampened the Mets' enthusiasm over it.
Now, with Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes done for the year, and Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce playing for contenders, the Mets decided to rekindle it.
"We've got to find out, and get him out there," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He's anxious to try it. I think as we move forward, it's something we've got to take a look at."
The implication is that Reyes, who can become a free agent in November, has a role awaiting him in 2018. Already, Reyes has expressed interest in re-signing with the Mets, who are paying him a league minimum salary this season. (The Rockies are picking up the rest of his $22 million paycheck.)
But Reyes' return is no guarantee. Asdrubal Cabrera is already under team control for next season, as are infielders Amed Rosario, Wilmer Flores, T.J. Rivera, Matt Reynolds and Gavin Cecchini. The Mets may add to that depth by acquiring an everyday second or third baseman this winter, further limiting Reyes' opportunity in Flushing.
Still, the Mets have valued Reyes' work mentoring Rosario, giving them incentive to retain him. And if Reyes genuinely does want to return, a little versatility can only help his cause.
"I feel like a lot of teams this year, they use a lot of versatile players who can play a lot of positions," Reyes said. "So that's going to be a plus for me if I can do a very good job in the outfield. I don't know how it's going to be because I don't have too much work there, but I'm still a very good athlete. I feel like I can play the position."