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Inbox: Where will Conforto start season?

Mets beat reporter Anthony DiComo answers fans' questions
March 28, 2017

In your opinion, what's the best/smartest way for the Mets to handle Michael Conforto? -- @ajmay21I'm not a skilled enough scout to determine if Conforto is better served playing every day at Triple-A Las Vegas or receiving scant at-bats off the Mets' bench. Certainly, the club is committed to using

In your opinion, what's the best/smartest way for the Mets to handle Michael Conforto?
-- @ajmay21

I'm not a skilled enough scout to determine if Conforto is better served playing every day at Triple-A Las Vegas or receiving scant at-bats off the Mets' bench. Certainly, the club is committed to using Jay Bruce as its everyday right fielder, making those the two realistic options for Conforto. That may be unpopular with fans, but Bruce is coming off a 33-homer, 99-RBI season and he's making $13 million this year. Even if the Mets ultimately want to trade him, they need to play him now lest his value crater.
Juan Lagares' injury may ultimately force the Mets' hand, prompting them to keep Conforto -- their only healthy center fielder besides Curtis Granderson -- on the bench whether they want to or not. But I will say this: Whatever the Mets choose, I think it's best for Conforto if they stick with it. If that's Triple-A, then keep him there for a nice long run, even if he's hitting .400 after two weeks. If it's the big league bench, then keep him there even if he starts the season 0-for-15. Consistency can only help Conforto at this point in his career.
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Will Rafael Montero's spring dominance translate, or is it just made better because he's facing Minor League players?
-- @20154Ryan

That's up to Montero. His stuff is Major League-caliber -- few have ever doubted that. Montero's greatest problems arise when he doesn't trust that stuff, nibbling at the corners of the strike zone and walking way too many batters as a result. If Montero can avoid that this season, his stuff should play. He could become a valued member of the Mets' bullpen, though I still think the club would be better served keeping him stretched out at Las Vegas in case of an injury to one of their other starters.
With Travis d'Arnaud still struggling at throwing out basestealers, will Rene Rivera be Syndergaard's personal catcher again this season?
-- @samkobylar13

It sure looks that way, Sam. Manager Terry Collins has already hinted strongly that Rivera will catch Syndergaard on Opening Day. That will extend a streak of 16 consecutive games in which the Mets have paired Syndergaard and Rivera, including the National League Wild Card Game. Until d'Arnaud demonstrates marked improvement throwing out baserunners, I don't see that changing.
Why wouldn't the Mets want to go with a six-man rotation? At least to start the season. Health is No. 1 for this group.
-- @CraigS_5

The simple answer is because pitchers hate it, and it also prevents you from using your best starters -- Syndergaard, for example -- as often as possible.
The more complicated answer is that the Mets probably will use a six-man rotation at some point this summer. But that doesn't necessarily mean you'll see all six guys in a row, week after week. More likely, the club will insert a sixth man strategically when the calendar dictates it, allowing everyone to receive some extra rest when they need it most.
Do you think the Mets are going to look outside the organization for a center fielder at some point this season?
-- @MeekPhill_

Not unless Granderson or Lagares suffers a season-ending injury. Between those two and Conforto, the Mets feel they're covered in center, even if Lagares is the only elite defender of the bunch. It would take a significant injury for the organization to think otherwise. Even after Lagares suffered his most recent injury, Mets officials said they had little interest in pursuing Robert Stubbs or any other available backup center fielder.
Who do you think needs to succeed the most? Like, which player's success drives the Mets as a team? Jose Reyes? Matt Harvey?
-- @thelawofmurph

It has to be a pitcher, so I'll go with the best: Syndergaard. Not to scare you guys, but if the Mets lose Yoenis Cespedes to some season-ending injury, they can overcome that given all the other power bats in their lineup. It would be difficult, but they could do it. If they lose Syndergaard? He's irreplaceable to this club. I have a hard time envisioning the Mets playing in October without him.
Does Kevin Plawecki have a future with the team? Is he the backup plan if d'Arnaud doesn't get going? Can Plawecki be used as trade bait?
-- @MillManner

To answer your last question first, no, Plawecki is not realistic trade bait. He's a 26-year-old catcher with a career .572 OPS. No team in baseball would give up much value for him.
What Plawecki needs to do is go play every day at Triple-A Las Vegas and absolutely rake. If he does that, there's still opportunity for him in New York -- particularly if d'Arnaud continues to struggle. But for now, Rivera has clearly supplanted Plawecki as d'Arnaud's primary backup.
Is there a point where you push a young pitcher like Steven Matz to pitch through pain? With all the caution, he can't get on the mound.
-- @jbmsgice

Gosh, that's a great question, and it's such a fine line for a pitcher -- particularly a young pitcher -- to walk. How do you know the difference between pain that hints at a serious problem, versus pain that comes part and parcel with the act of pitching? How do you encourage anyone to -- quite literally -- do damage to their body?
Some players are wired to pitch through just about anything, often to their own detriment. Most aren't. It's not my place, or yours, or anyone's, to tell Matz how to feel or what to do, considering it's his body and career at stake. In my estimation, Matz does the right thing every time he is honest with trainers about what he's feeling. Trainers alert doctors, doctors run tests and the team proceeds from there. Asking a player to keep quiet and pitch through pain sends a terrible message to the millions of young players around the world. Machismo only accomplishes so much.
What do you think about those new mozzarella sticks at Citi Field this year?
-- @SteveP22780

I think I'm going to have to give them a try. You know, for the sake of journalism.

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