How Yoenis Cespedes’ eventual return will ripple through Mets

The Mets moved closer to whole Tuesday, when they activated Todd Frazier and Anthony Swarzak from the disabled list.

The next move, though, will be most fascinating and revelatory about the Mets.

Jose Reyes was spared in this latest roster shuffle. But when Yoenis Cespedes returns, perhaps in the next week, Reyes could be looking at the end of his Mets tenure and maybe his career.

Plus, Mickey Callaway is then going to be faced with juggling at-bats and egos, with Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto currently the most likely to have their playing time imperiled.

Two provisos: These are the Mets, so between now and Cespedes’ return, they can endure a few more plan-altering DL stints. This is Cespedes, and nailing down an exact return date is a fun game that you, the family and — quite frankly — the Mets can play.

Reyes did not go this time because the Mets decided that with their rotation on a strong run and Swarzak returning, they could go from 13 to 12 pitchers (with Buddy Baumann and Gerson Bautista being dispatched). But being an ownership favorite does not afford Reyes forever protection.

Jose ReyesAnthony J Causi

The Mets gave him $2 million hoping his second half last season (.828 OPS) was indicative of who Reyes still is as a player. But with his 35th birthday arriving Monday, the switch-hitter is running out of time to show that was not aberrational. He has the seventh-worst Wins Above Replacement in the majors and the seventh-worst batting average at .141 (minimum 75 plate appearances).

But hurting him just as much is the Mets need him for versatility and speed, and have determined they just don’t want him at third, plus his overall defense and speed have declined. He has about $1.3 million still due him, and the Mets already might have eaten that if they had infielders in the system they perceived as better and ready. It is an organizational condemnation that they don’t.

They do, however, face an outfield logjam upon Cespedes’ return, even with Juan Lagares out for the season. Not long ago, the Mets would have lined up with Cespedes in left, Conforto in center and Bruce in right with Brandon Nimmo as a fourth outfielder. Nimmo, though, has been the Mets’ best hitter.

“We have been thinking a lot about it,” Callaway told me about who will play. “We still will continue to evaluate where guys are the next 7-10 days before [Cespedes] comes back. The one thing I do know is Brandon Nimmo deserves playing time. If I do not put him out there, it will make it tough for us to be the best team possible. And when Ces is back he needs to be out there. That is going to be a tough decision.”

So if Cespedes and Nimmo are playing, either Bruce or Conforto won’t — unless Bruce moves to first to replace Adrian Gonzalez. To this point, Gonzalez has been the better hitter and is the more experienced defender.

Bruce, who signed a three-year, $39 million pact in the offseason, was hitting just .222 with three homers. Callaway said “salary doesn’t matter” to him when assembling a lineup — not when his team is so runs-starved. But track record does.

“What guys are capable of and what they can and can’t do matters very much,” the Mets manager said.

“It is easy to say, ‘Keep this guy [in the lineup] because this guy has 40 more points of OPS,’ but is it going to stay that way? It could be we are a better team if I kept the guy in the lineup who on paper has worse numbers now, but is a better player than that. Historically, [Bruce] has done that [performed]. This [slump] might be prolonged for him. But look on the back of his baseball card. He has performed every year. If he does that the next 400 plate appearances, we will be a good team.”

Conforto has not hit as well as last season, but with seven homers and a .757 OPS, he has outperformed Bruce, and his pedigree also suggests better stuff to come. So what does Callaway do with a situation made more complicated because Bruce, Conforto, Gonzalez and Nimmo are all lefties? Jose Bautista will probably stick around because of his righty bat and — of all things — being a better emergency third baseman than Reyes.

The good news for the Mets — that Cespedes is getting closer to making them whole — is pending bad news for a few veteran players.

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