If Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t land in New York, Sandy Alderson must line up his contingency plans — or maybe just a better plan.
As the New York Mets gear up for a 2017 run, there exists one unmistakable reality that must line up for the club to contend. That is, the acquisition of a big bat — an offensive-carrying force who will ride high when the offense is clicking, and who will continue to perform when the team hits its run droughts.
From all we’ve seen out of Yoenis Cespedes, he is that guy. And that’s why I detailed a case for his return, and for Sandy Alderson to submit to Cespedes’ nine-figure price tag. In retrospect, such a mandate is a bit naïve, and perhaps close-minded. Though a Cespedes return remains the optimal situation for the Mets’ offensive interests, Alderson’s track record of taking the high grounds of negotiation, and not capitulating to a contract that discomforts him, is cause for pause. It warrants some detective work — some investigation into the outlying stars who could be dangled in trade talks.
Now, here goes nothing: the contingency plans if Cespedes chooses to leave New York, or the plain alternative of better resolve. (But first, a disclaimer: the potential fits and the logical trade targets below are purely speculative and subject to an admitted mass of conjecture).
In scoping out the trade market, there are some interesting teams to keep an eye on. The low-spenders that can’t lock up the star-studded centerpiece, the makeover regimes that may choose to tear down, the pitching-starved, and the downright non-contenders all qualify as potential sellers of big-time bats.
So we’ll play a little armchair GM here: let’s call the Arizona Diamondbacks’ new top baseball man, general manager Mike Hazen. The right-hand man to Boston’s Dave Dombrowski, Hazen takes over Arizona’s baseball ops after a pitiful, wholly embarrassing management team was mostly (Tony La Russa survived the front office casualties) shown the door. The 40-year old executive is an analytics-minded baseball modernist.
The Diamondbacks could use a minor league overhaul, as the club’s farm system is a consensus bottom five rank in baseball. Perhaps Hazen will seek a comprehensive rebuild and choose to pawn off Paul Goldschmidt, whose contract expires following the 2019 season. With a formidable offense in place, it’s logical to think Hazen would subtract from Arizona’s strength — though he’ll hold onto club-controlled Jake Lamb and A.J. Pollock, the latter of whose value took a hit after the disabled list locked him up for most of the season.
Goldy, though, could move. If Alderson could pry him away from the D-backs, the exchange would be mighty: consider Lucas Duda compensatory, in addition to a young arm — probably Steven Matz or, if Sandy is savvy, Zack Wheeler.
That, folks, is merely an alternative. It’s still not a preference, but it is a negotiation Alderson must entertain if Cespedes departs. Goldschmidt’s team-friendly contract would also allow spending on a top closer — Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon are the rhyming names — and a starter to replace whomever Goldschmidt costs in exchange.
In the American League, the Chicago White Sox seem like a good bet to tear down this offseason, as the team endured a fourth straight losing season in 2016. Todd Frazier, a free agent after this season, is likely to be dealt — though his fit on the Mets is a square peg in a round hole. If Frazier represents a robust value play in the January or February months, though, and Yoenis Cespedes is not a Met, Alderson would be best advised to consider deploying Frazier at first base.
First base is the most logical position of interest for the Mets, should Cespedes not re-sign, as an acquisition at No. 3 would provide an instant upgrade over Lucas Duda. At catcher, the Mets are rightfully uneasy with Travis d’Arnaud, but the trade market offers nothing remotely close to a “game-changing bat.”
At first base, it’s possible the White Sox would even market Jose Abreu, the Cespedes countryman whose power is similarly dangerous.
But now, let’s get realistic. The best hitter who is most likely to be traded this winter is none other than the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen. With rising stars in the corner outfield (Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco) and a top center field prospect waiting in the wings (Austin Meadows), the Bucs could jumpstart a franchise revamp with a McCutchen trade.
GM Neil Huntington is often considered a master manager of his tight budget, and McCutchen’s soon-to-come mega-deal when he hits free agency after next year makes the veteran executive shudder. McCutchen’s future almost certainly lies outside of Pittsburgh.
And that’s where Alderson comes in. The Pirates want to compete, but their pitching staff holds them back massively — a 4.21 team ERA was ninth in the National League in 2016. In a swap for the ages, perhaps the teams trade need-for-need: Matt Harvey for McCutchen. Contractual equals, both will play on expiring deals in 2018. Each fits a need, and, for the Mets, this prospective deal immediately removes New York from the Cespedes bidding, creating an allowance toward replacing Harvey and striking reliever gold.
One team intrigues my speculation above all else. The Miami Marlins are a wild card this winter, and there just isn’t a team more in need of pitching. Despite its formidable offense, the club needs an ace to replace the late Jose Fernandez. Harvey would be of certain interest to fill that void, and the rivals could agree on Marcell Ozuna in exchange. Giancarlo Stanton is likely off the table considering his contract, and Christian Yelich is all but untouchable.
Ozuna is a 26-year old with three years of club control remaining. His All-Star campaign in which the slugger hit 23 home runs last season makes for an intriguing Cespedes replacement. To boot, the capable center fielder has also been floated in trade talks before. The Marlins entertained an Ozuna deal last year, and nearly sent him to the Seattle Mariners, largely due to a rift between his agent, Scott Boras, and the Miami front office.
As the Marlins have entered starting pitching desperation, an intra-division trade is not an impossibility.
That, my friends, is a lot of speculation for one column – but hear me this: it all makes sense. Sandy, if Cespedes doesn’t fall in your lap like he did last year, open the phone lines and get creative.
Because if the Mets want to contend, you’ll need that big bat — be it Cespedes or another.