NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Wednesday, February 3, 2016, 3:56 PM
Michael Conforto smacks a solo home run against the Royals during Game Four of the World Series.
Michael Conforto is the Mets’ best young position player and he enjoyed a solid first taste of the big leagues last year, even slugging two home runs in a World Series game.
But he’s not guaranteed to play on a daily basis, GM Sandy Alderson said.
“I think it’s a little premature to say he’s going to play every day,” Alderson said. “He’s going to have to earn that right.”
Conforto, who turns 23 on March 1, had an .841 OPS and slammed nine homers in 56 games last year, giving the Mets a boost when he came up from the minors and played mostly against righties. He homered twice in Game 4 of the World Series against the Royals, though he only batted .200 in the postseason overall.
But with Yoenis Cespedes on board, the Met outfield has plenty of options. Cespedes likely will play center against righties and left against lefties. Conforto, Alderson said, could see some time in right field in spring training to see if he’s a choice occasionally there as a sub for Curtis Granderson.
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The Mets’ target date for Zack Wheeler to return to the majors is July 1, Alderson said, part of a 15-month recovery period for Tommy John surgery that the GM says doctors think is more ideal than 12 months. “After talking with the doctors and in light of our experience with Matt Harvey, we just felt that 15 months, thereabouts, was more appropriate for a return than 12,” Alderson said.
“It could accelerate a little bit,” Alderson added. “He felt he could come back sooner, but we backed him off. He hasn’t thrown off a mound or thrown off a slope.”
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Alderson said he could see teams approaching him about deals for Alejandro De Aza, though he’s not engaged there now. The GM acknowledged that the outfielder’s playing situation is “a little less clear” now that Cespedes is here. “But we’re happy to have another left-handed hitter who hits well against right-handed pitching and we’ll figure it out,” Alderson said. Juan Lagares, meanwhile, “definitely has a role for us, probably coming off the bench, maybe against left-handed pitching, primarily,” Alderson said. “But certainly his defense will get him into most games.”
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Both catchers, Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, are likely to get work at other positions this spring, Alderson said. Plawecki is likely to work out at first. “I can see d’Arnaud playing one or two other positions,” Alderson said. When someone asked if he’d be better in the infield or the outfield, Alderson replied, “We’ll see. He thinks he’s a shortstop.”
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Holding out hope the Mets ink another reliever to a major-league deal? From what Alderson said, that seems unlikely. “Yeah, I’d say right now we’re probably done with major-league contracts,” Alderson said. He noted that the club lost outfielder Darrell Ceciliani because of a roster crunch and “we’re at the point now where we have to balance what we might lose, player-wise, on the 40-man (roster) with what we might gain.
“The other thing is, based on what’s out there and how we evaluate those players against the ones we already have, giving a major-league contract, you lose some flexibility, the ability to move people in and out. You almost make a commitment I’m not sure we’re prepared to make with what’s on the market now.”
When asked if he thought ex-Met Tyler Clippard might get a big-league deal, Alderson said, “I assume that would be the case, but I don’t know.” Presumably, that takes Clippard out of the running for the Mets….Alderson, who is undergoing cancer treatments, says he anticipates being in Port St. Lucie for all or most of spring training. “Yeah,” he said. “There may be a couple of days where I have to be in New York. But other than that, I expect to be down there.”