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Mets need to shore up outfield depth this winter

Almost a year ago, the Mets were overflowing with outfielders. After picking up the option on Jay Bruce’s contract and then re-signing Yoenis Cespedes, they had an unbalanced roster and were looking to move an outfielder. Now, after releasing Nori Aoki on Monday, they are down to a manageable four outfielders.

But, that may not be enough.

With Michael Conforto coming off an unusual shoulder injury, uncertain to be ready for the 2018 season and the Mets not sure what he will be able to give them after surgery, the Mets need to not only bring in another outfielder, but one that can help their lineup.

AN AUG. 24, 2017, FILE PHOTO

Michael Conforto’s shoulder injury will force the Mets to have an insurance policy for their outfield.

(Adam Hunger/AP)

The dream for Mets fans would be to make a deal with the Marlins, who in an attempt to shed payroll, are reportedly looking to move Giancarlo Stanton.The 27-year old hit 59 home runs and 132 RBI in a career-high 159 games this season. And while he comes with a contract that pays him a fairly reasonable $ 25 million next season, that contract also runs through 2028 — his age 38 season.

But the reality is the Mets, who have already admitted they are likely cut payroll from the 2017 Opening Day amount of $ 154 million, simply will not make that type of commitment.

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Yoenis Cespedes’ continued leg issues make him a question mark.

(Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

So what can the Mets do with their outfield next season?

Besides Cespedes, a 32-year old who is coming off an injury-plagued season, the Mets have Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo under contract for next season.

Juan Lagares has a good glove, but without big bats flanking him, the Mets may choose to upgrade center field.

Juan Lagares has a good glove, but without big bats flanking him, the Mets may choose to upgrade center field.

(Bill Kostroun/AP)

The Mets released Aoki Monday, which was not a surprise considering he was expected to earn $ 6.5 million in 2018 after arbitration.

Conforto’s dislocated shoulder with a torn anterior capsule spoiled the Mets plans to go into 2018 with the former Gold Glove Lagares in center between the Mets’ two best sluggers. Lagares’ light bat — and tendency to get hurt — makes it tough to plan on him being the everyday center fielder without some big bats in the corners.

Lorenzo Cain could be a center-field solution for the Mets.

Lorenzo Cain could be a center-field solution for the Mets.

(Elsa/Getty Images)

So the Mets could choose to make a move on a centerfielder to help improve their lineup. Lorenzo Cain, the 32-year old free agent, could give the Mets comparable defense to Lagares and add some much-needed speed to a team that has never been that athletic. He hit 15 homers in 2017.

Other center fielders available via free agency would include Carlos Gomez, Austin Jackson, Cameron Maybin and possibly Andrew McCutchen. Despite something of a bounce back season, the Pirates’ $ 14.75 million club option on the 31-year old, who they already see as having to move out of center field, is hefty and he could be on the market. The Mets were linked to McCutchen in rumors last winter.

A reunion with Jay Bruce makes sense, but it's unlikely.

A reunion with Jay Bruce makes sense, but it’s unlikely.

(David Zalubowski/AP)

With Conforto having shown that he can play an acceptable center field (and his shoulder injury to his non-throwing arm) the Mets could also add a right fielder to shore up their lineup and outfield. That could mean an attempt to reunite with the player that they had worked so hard to move last year: Jay Bruce.

The Mets have expressed their interest in bringing Bruce back several times, but it seems unlikely.

The 30-year old was awful with the Mets after being acquired at the 2016 trade deadline, but he proved he could play in New York with a turnaround season in 2017 before being dealt to Cleveland in August. Bruce only increased his worth on the free agent market by helping the Indians finish off a 102-win season. While he has publicly said he would love to come back to Flushing, privately the Texas native has told Mets officials his preference would be to play closer to home. He also is looking for a major, multi-year contract, which could be difficult with the Mets’ need to reduce payroll.

Another possibility in right would be J.D. Martinez, the 30-year old who is coming off a 45-home run season with Detroit and Arizona, or Carlos Gonzalez, a name the Mets have talked about before and who is coming off a down year.

Just a year after they had too many outfielders, the Mets need to find one that can fit with their payroll and roster.

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