Though they signed Yoenis Cespedes to a three-year, $75-million deal in large part because of his ability to play center, the Mets are suddenly wary of him doing so on a balky right leg that has bothered him since before the All-Star break. Cespedes on Sunday publicly discussed his reticence to play center. And so without any ideal options on the roster, the coaching staff is looking to Conforto.
"Why not?" Collins said.
The counterargument begins with Conforto's lack of experience in center -- he has not played the position even sporadically since college, he said -- and overall lack of defensive chops. But Conforto has outperformed most defensive expectations of him up to this point in his career, and, at age 23, boasts by far the youngest legs of any Mets outfielder. So the team on Monday began giving him fly balls in center, in the hopes that he might play the position as soon as this weekend in Miami.
"I'll be an athlete," Conforto said. "I'll go make plays and do whatever I can if they need me out there."
"I think he's a better outfielder than people give him credit for," Collins said. "And we've got two veteran guys who are alongside him. I think they can help him."
One of those veterans, Curtis Granderson, is a former center fielder who at age 35 is no longer suited for the position. The other is Cespedes, who agreed to play center field one last time on Tuesday -- and may ultimately wind up there again later this season. The Mets also employ a Gold Glover in Juan Lagares, who will receive significant reps at the position, and another former starting center fielder in Alejandro De Aza. But they want Conforto's bat in the lineup, after watching his demotion result in a .344/.420/.623 slash line over 16 games at Triple-A Las Vegas.
"I think there was a period of obviously being upset, and you've got to go through that," Conforto said of his time in the Minors. "But as soon as I turned it into an opportunity to work on some things, to get some things done, and take a look at what happened over the course of the prior couple of months, I think I really took a couple big steps forward."
Conforto was out of the lineup on Monday opposite left-hander Jon Lester, and he will play left field on Tuesday. But the possibility of him moving around the outfield after that is quite real, considering the Mets' desire to keep Cespedes as stationary as possible.
"I said, 'We need to talk about your health, your legs,'" Collins said of his conversation with Cespedes. "'We've got to keep you in the lineup.' And if center field is a place that's causing you issues, we need to address it.'"
Added Collins: "But that's a vision. It may not be a reality."