PORT ST. LUCIE — In early February, the Mets held a Zoom meeting with free-agent center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., as a contingent which included team president Sandy Alderson, acting general manager Zack Scott, manager Luis Rojas, hitting coach Chili Davis and outfield coach Tony Tarasco talked about the organization’s vision and ambition.
The Mets’ pursuit of Bradley went no further, according to multiple industry sources. There proved to be no more discussions and never any negotiations with Bradley, who agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract with the Brewers on Thursday. The deal features an opt-out after 2021.
Hence we arrive at another Mets flashpoint, likely the last of their extremely interesting offseason. It’s defensible that, with the designated hitter currently not implemented in the National League for 2021, they opted to stick with their top alignment of Brandon Nimmo in center field, Dominic Smith in left field and Pete Alonso at first base. And it would have been justifiable to disrupt that alignment, be it with a trade to free up at-bats or simply a commitment to some Rojas playing-time razzle-dazzle, to make room for Bradley.
So we’ll watch it play out, the three popular homegrown guys in New York and Bradley in Milwaukee. Just as we’ll monitor how new Mets catcher James McCann fares while J.T. Realmuto, the top receiver on the market, begins his five-year contract with the Phillies.
“We have to balance the offensive production of a player versus what liabilities may exist on the defensive side,” Mets president Sandy Alderson told ESPN Thursday during its broadcast of the Mets’ 8-4 victory over the Nationals at Clover Park. “Rather than just change out personnel, what we’ve tried to do is become more flexible and versatile so that we have players that can platoon if necessary.
“We’ve got several people that can play third base with a range of defensive abilities. The same is true in the outfield. We brought in [Albert] Almora and [Kevin] Pillar. Definitely, we’ve got choices. While some of our players aren’t defensive geniuses, we think that the overall blend that we have is pretty good.”
None of Nimmo, Smith and Alonso qualifies as a genius at his likely Opening Day position. All can provide significant offensive value to, the Mets hope, mitigate their liabilities with the glove. On Thursday, Alonso mashed a fifth-inning grand slam to right-center field off the Nats’ Cole Henry — a fitting “birthday bomb” for his mother Michelle, he explained afterward. Alonso also vowed to keep working on his performance at first base, saying, “I want to learn all the mistakes I’ve made so I can play as cleanly as possible.”
Nimmo, meanwhile, added a homer of his own, a leadoff blast to right field in the first inning, and added an opposite-field base hit in the third and eight-pitch walk in the fifth. We’ve already heard plenty about the team’s faith in new outfield coach Tony Tarasco to optimize the defensive contributions of Nimmo, Smith (who went 0-for-3) and the rest of his charges as well as the notion of lifting Nimmo and Smith for Almora and Pillar late in games the Mets lead.
It all could work. Or the Mets’ defensive issues could undermine their strengths while Bradley becomes a beloved Brewer (in which case he could opt out and give the Mets another shot next winter). As Rojas said on Thursday, defense “is one of the things that we’re working on in this camp. Defensively, we can hurt ourselves. We’ve seen it happen in the past. It happened last year.”
The beauty of these flashpoints comes in their uncertainty and the resulting debate. The Mets lost a bad one last year when they banked on Marcus Stroman, whom they had acquired in a 2019 trade, to outperform Zack Wheeler, whom they let move down to the Phillies. Bradley prevailed easily in a longer-term debate by rewarding the Red Sox for letting Jacoby Ellsbury jump to the rival Yankees.
“We feel great about our team,” Rojas said. “Whatever moves come our way, I think we’ll always be grateful.”
Let’s check back in October and check the gratefulness of the Mets’ fan base for the choices the club made at this fork in the road.