Inbox: How big of a role will Conforto play?

Mets beat reporter Anthony DiComo responds to fans' questions

Inbox: How big of a role will Conforto play?

One month and one day from now, Mets pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training. The team still has a bit to do this offseason, including an anticipated trade of Jay Bruce. In the meantime, here's the latest batch of Mets questions and answers:

How much of a leash do you think Michael Conforto has to improve and bounce back? Will he get full-time at-bats against left-handed pitchers?
-- @JCarpenter2015 via Twitter

Aside from maybe Travis d'Arnaud, no position player is as crucial to the 2017 Mets as Conforto. He's one of the few players on the roster from whom the Mets can reasonably expect significant improvement, considering Conforto's .220/.310/.414 slash line in what was supposed to be his breakout 2016 season.

Assuming the Mets succeed in trading Bruce, Conforto will have every opportunity to play daily in right field, at least against right-handed pitchers. He deserves it. Maybe the Mets affected Conforto by shuttling him between the Majors and Triple-A Las Vegas in 2016, or maybe Conforto simply struggled to adjust in his first extended taste of the big leagues. (Realistically, it was probably some combination of both.) But the abilities that made Conforto a 10th overall Draft pick and a .270-hitting slugger as a 22-year-old rookie didn't just evaporate overnight.

The Mets know that, which is why Conforto will get his chance.

The monkey wrench in all of this is Bruce. If he's still on the roster come Opening Day, that would push Conforto to the bench or even Las Vegas -- which wouldn't entirely be fair to Conforto, a favorite of scouts who consider him a solid future big league regular. Remember, this guy was in college less than three years ago.

Mets may look to trade Bruce

As for Conforto's role against lefties, file that under the "believe it when I see it" department. The Mets talk every year about giving their lefty sluggers chances against same-sided pitchers, whether it's Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, Conforto or others. Terry Collins hates the word "platoon," but he realistically uses platoons as much as any manager in baseball. Conforto will have to really thrive to become an exception.

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Who will be the fifth outfielder come Opening Day? Is it Brandon Nimmo's spot to lose, or are they better off having him in Vegas?
-- @capnsammy via Twitter

Again, assuming Bruce is off the roster by then, I see this as Nimmo's spot to lose. He's the most qualified internal candidate for a team that isn't going to spend significant money on a free agent. So voila, Nimmo.

At this point, Nimmo has played more than 100 games at Triple-A with significant success. He doesn't need to play every day. What he needs is experience against top-level pitching so the Mets can determine what kind of player he is. No better place than the big leagues for that, even in limited time.

Nimmo's first career homer

How many games will Wilmer Flores play in? What will be his primary role?
-- @ZanerzasNJ via Twitter

Unlike last year, when Flores entered Spring Training as the Mets' "super sub," his role is far better defined heading into 2017. Against left-handed pitchers, Flores will start, likely either at first or second base. Otherwise, Flores will come off the bench as the Mets' primary right-handed pinch-hitter.

A Duda or Neil Walker injury could expand Flores' role to include time against right-handers, but he's mostly a right-on-left bat at this point. And the Mets are all but done experimenting with him on the left side of the infield. Consider Flores a first and second baseman capable of playing the other two infield positions in a pinch.

Flores' pinch-hit two-run homer

What is more likely to happen in 2017? Zack Wheeler in the bullpen or a six-man rotation with Wheeler as a starting pitcher?
-- @factor71_rjn via Twitter

This really depends on how you define a six-man rotation. The Mets will surely use one at various points throughout the season, needing those spot starts to keep everyone rested and healthy. But they aren't likely to lean on a six-man rotation for long stretches, mostly because their pitchers tend to hate it.

I do believe the Mets when they say they're intrigued by the possibility of Wheeler in the bullpen, but ultimately, health concerns might trump that desire. Though both roles are possible, I think it's more likely we see Wheeler exclusively as a starting pitcher in 2017.

Being that Spring Training is knocking on the door, shouldn't the Mets sign a reliever despite not trading Bruce?
-- @MillManner via Twitter

This is currently the Mets' great predicament. They need relief help, and considering the glut of veteran relievers on the market, they shouldn't have a great deal of trouble acquiring some. But they also need to clear money off their books first, which won't happen unless they trade Bruce.

See the issue? If this lingers much longer, the Mets are either going to have to give Bruce away in a salary dump trade, or sign a couple of relievers and go over their budget. They don't like either of those ideas, which is why they're holding out hope for a mutually beneficial Bruce trade soon.

Is there a chance the Mets sign Matt Wieters if the free-agent market shrinks on him?
-- @battenfield011 via Twitter

I hate to say never, because there are so few absolutes during the Hot Stove season. Take last year, for example. The Mets internally dismissed the idea of signing Yoenis Cespedes until his market cratered, he began expressing interest in short-term deals and everything changed. So sure, it's possible circumstances transform and the Mets take a stab at Wieters.

It's just highly, highly unlikely, and the reason is money. As mentioned above, the Mets are already over budget without signing a single reliever to a big league contract. To drop eight figures on a catcher, even for a one-year deal, is not something the Mets' ledger can accommodate.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.