The New York Mets’ signing of Yoenis Cespedes certainly enhances the fan’s outlook of Sandy Alderson’s club. Just don’t forget his cavalry.
By Bryan Pol
With twenty-six days remaining to pitchers and catchers at Port St. Lucie, New York Mets‘ general manager Sandy Alderson struck a massive deal with centerfielder Yoenis Cespedes, fending off the likes of the Chicago White Sox, the Baltimore Orioles, and the rival Washington Nationals in pursuit of the righty slugger, who turned the Mets into a juggernaut in 2015 after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers at the zero hour of last season’s non-waiver trade deadline.
The signing, which will pay Cespedes $75 million over three years, with $27.5 million due and an opt-out possible at the end of the 2016 season, puts the Mets at a robust, yet manageable $140 million payroll, the team’s highest since 2011, when Alderson first took over as GM.
With 17 blasts to close out the 2015 regular season, Cespedes managed the second-highest homer total in franchise history after August 1, behind only Gary Carter and Mike Piazza‘s 19 (in 1985 and 1999 respectively), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. In two of those seasons (1999 and 2015), the Mets reached the NLCS, with Piazza’s Mets falling two games short of reaching the World Series.
While Cespedes was largely responsible for providing the boost the Mets needed to win the National League East (the club scored 5.4 runs per game and managed a .794 OPS, the best marks in the NL after the trade deadline), the team’s sixth divisional title, the likes of Daniel Murphy, a modern-day reincarnation of Roy Hobbs, rookie Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson, and the Mets’ arms were largely what pushed New York to their fifth World Series.
Despite hitting two homers in the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cespedes went homerless in nine games across the NLCS and the World Series, mustering a paltry .150/.143/.150 slash line in the Fall Classic, striking out six times in twenty at-bats against the Royals.
In Cespedes’s defense, a shoulder injury forced manager Terry Collins to remove his star centerfielder from the lineup in the Mets’ series-clinching win against the Chicago Cubs, an ailment that further required a cortisone shot before the Cuban outfielder played in the World Series after a nine-game layoff.
While a breakout year from Cespedes was a marvelous sight to witness down the stretch (his 35 homers, 105 RBI, and .870 OPS were all career-highs), the Mets were just as triggered by Cespedes’s arrival as they were boosted by David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud‘s returns from injury and Michael Conforto’s call-up in late July.
In short, Cespedes alone did not bear the strife of serving as the sole catalyst and only lively bat in the lineup despite heading into late July with the worst offense in the National League.
And in 2016, that will not be the case for Cespedes either.
Early this offseason, Alderson flipped left-hander Jonathon Niese for second baseman Neil Walker from the Pittsburgh Pirates, effectively restricting any chance New York had of resigning Murphy, who instead fled to the Washington Nationals for a three-year deal worth $37.5 million.
Walker, a career .272 hitter, Silver Slugger winner in 2014, and fan favorite in the Steel City, has averaged 18 home runs a year these past three seasons, and plays much better defense than Murphy, whose costly error in Game 4 of the Series against the Royals, along with a Fall Classic performance similar to Cespedes’s, essentially effaced the magical tear he sustained through the NLDS and NLCS.
Later in the offseason, Alderson also signed shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, to a two-year deal worth $18.5 million with an option for a third year. Like Walker, Cabrera, a career .267 hitter, is capable of blasting fifteen to twenty homers a year, and is a huge upgrade over Ruben Tejada, still recovering from a broken leg he suffered in a controversial collision with Chase Utley in the NLDS.
Given the real possibility over not landing Cespedes this offseason, Alderson preemptively acquired a left-handed bat in Alejandro de Aza to platoon with Juan Lagares in centerfield. With Cespedes aboard, the Mets now have a glut of outfielders and depth in the infield, with Tejada and Wilmer Flores able to spell Cabrera and Walker when healthy.
Each acquisition lands players still in their primes, while the signing of Antonio Bastardo, who posted a 2.98 ERA in 66 appearances last season with the Pirates, provides the Mets with a much-needed lefty option, along with Jerry Blevins, out of the bullpen. With the resigning of Bartolo Colon and a low-cost arbitration signing of Jenrry Mejia, the Mets, who last season acquired a respectable bullpen arm in Addison Reed, feature a stout bullpen to bridge the gap to closer Jeurys Familia, even despite the loss of a solid option in Tyler Clippard, who became a free agent at season’s end (but has yet to sign with the Mets or any other club).
With Rafael Montero set to return in 2016, the Mets can rely on a portion of its club that was once its weakness, and might not have to all that often, given the state of the Mets’ rotation behind Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz.
Come July, the Mets will welcome Zack Wheeler, who was desperately pining to be a part of last year’s World Series run, even if he was included in a deal with Wilmer Flores to acquire Carlos Gomez, a deal that most fortunately fell through. Should Wheeler return from Tommy John surgery the way Harvey did in 2015, New York can boast a move akin to a blockbuster deadline acquisition, all without giving up anything, save for a roster spot.
While acquiring Cespedes was a necessity for Alderson, the centerfielder’s return is now supplemented by one of the Mets’ most efficient offseasons in years. And even if Cespedes’s numbers regress to his career norms (hardly a bad proposition, given his 30 homer/100 RBI potential each year), he will be but one piece—albeit, a large one—that fits into the championship puzzle.
— Jerry Seinfeld (@JerrySeinfeld) January 23, 2016
Cespedes, who spurned more years and money from the likes of the White Sox and the Nationals, has most certainly endeared himself to the fanbase after choosing a surefire thing with the Mets. He has spawned timeless post-game videos from comedian and die-hard fan Jim Breuer and ecstatic tweets from comedic legend Jerry Seinfeld.
Sandy Alderson, taking stock of what the Cubs (having acquired Jason Heyward and Adam Warren), the Giants (who landed Johnny Cueto), and the Diamondbacks (with their acquisition of Zack Greinke) all did to better themselves, answered with savvy deals of his own, with Cespedes being the most emphatic and demonstrative of them all in the Mets’ desires to return to the Series in 2016 and win it all, of which they have the fifth-best odds (14/1) of every team in the majors of doing so, according to Vegas Insider, even before the Cespedes deal.
The Mets, thanks to the Cespedes return, are most certainly back in the New York groove.