By Patrick Brewer
When Yoenis Cespedes was first traded to New York last July, it appeared very unlikely that he would be back with the New York Mets next season. Even with the Mets World Series run, those odds haven’t changed greatly up to this point.
Now those odds appear to have reached near zero. According to a report by Jamal Collier of MLB.com, following the signing of Alejandro De Aza last week, the Mets front office has pretty much closed the door on any chance of re-signing Yoenis Cespedes.
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As was expected, Mets fans far and wide have reacted with quite a bit of anger and revulsion at the unwillingness of the Mets front office to spend any significant money this offseason to improve the on-field product in 2016. Even with a World Series run still fresh in the mind of fans throughout baseball, Mets fans are still unsatisfied with their front office’s penny-pinching approach to the offseason.
The Mets have so far been able to replace Daniel Murphy with Neil Walker, although it hurts that Murphy will be playing for their division rivals. However, De Aza is nowhere close to the player that Cespedes is, and the Mets go into 2016 with an outfield filled with question marks.
Obviously it is fairly evident the impact that Yoenis Cespedes had on the Mets in the second half of the 2015 season. After trudging along with one of the worst offense in all of baseball prior to the trade deadline, the Mets vaulted to their position as one of the best in the second half, on the way to winning the division title in what was one of the best second halves in all of baseball. Cespedes hit .287 with 17 home runs in 57 games with the Mets following the trade. Without Cespedes, it may have been a different story for the Mets last season.
However, even though Cespedes was a big part of the Mets playoff push, he disappeared in the postseason. Cespedes played in fourteen postseason games for the Mets last season, with 56 plate appearances, finishing with a slash line of .222/.232/.352 with only two home runs and eight RBIs. Despite a big second half explosion, Cespedes went completely quiet in the postseason. If not for Daniel Murphy playing at an astronomical level, the Mets may have not even gotten as far as they did, given the performance of their star, Cespedes.
So even with his stellar second half performance last year, it makes some sense why the Mets did not want to give a large long term contract to a guy who disappeared in the postseason. Already 30, Cespedes is also not getting any younger, and could be entering his decline years sooner rather than later. While the assessment that the Mets were or are cheap is a fair one, their cheapness may have not come into play with regards to Cespedes.
The Mets may have simply been unwilling to pay the kind of money it would have taken for a player like Cespedes. With five young pitchers who will all need to be paid sooner or later, the Mets front office knew where their strengths lied, and knew that doling out a long term contract to a position player would hurt their long term financial flexibility when it comes time to pay those pitchers. This may be a similar reason to why the Mets elected to go with one year of Neil Walker rather than a multi-year contract with Daniel Murphy.
The final reason why the Mets apparently did not want Cespedes has to do with what they already have. While it is anyone’s guess what the Mets will get out of a Juan Lagares/Alejandro De Aza platoon in center field (projected for a 1.6 WAR according to Fangraphs), the Mets do have pretty good players at both corner outfield spots. Coming off a 5.1 WAR season, right fielder Curtis Granderson is projected for a 2.1 WAR season next season, which seems a little low but is still a respectable season. In left field, Michael Conforto, coming off his rookie season, is projected for a 2.3 WAR season in 2016. For some comparison, Cespedes is projected for 3.1 WAR which makes him around a full win better than both of those players.
For a better understanding of what the Mets are (or are not) losing, it helps to look closer at the projections for Conforto and Cespedes for next year. Cespedes is projected for a slash line of .266/.312/.473 with a wRC+ of 111 with the WAR mentioned above. Conforto, on the other hand, is projected for a slash line of .260/.321/.435 with a wRC+ of 111. Based on those numbers, it appears the offensive difference between the two is negligible, with Cespedes providing slightly more value defensively given his throwing arm. However, that value would be diminished on the Mets because he would likely be forced into playing center field next season, or else Conforto or Granderson would be, which would be an even worse defensive mess.
As it stands using the projections systems, the loss of Cespedes is really not too much of a loss for the Mets to bear. While a Lagares/De Aza platoon is less than desirable, Conforto profiles as a similar player to Cespedes next season. Aside from that, none of this accounts for prospect Brandon Nimmo, and his potential impact on the Mets next season. Remember the impact Conforto had when he was called up? Either way, even without Cespedes on the roster next year the Mets will be okay. They have made it clear where their priorities lie— with their pitching stafff — and they appear content to ride that pitching staff back to the postseason. And their offense should have just enough punch to get that job done.