New York Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes had the potential to become the next Mike Piazza, but it seems unlikely he’ll achieve that now.
May 22, 1998: The New York Mets, chasing a playoff spot, are a middle of the order hitter away from getting over the hump. The team acquires catcher Mike Piazza from the then-Florida Marlins for a package around Preston Wilson.
July 31, 2015. The Mets are once again chasing a playoff spot, and once again lack a marquee bat. The team acquires outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers for a package around Michael Fulmer.
Both players were 29-years-old and entering their final season before becoming free agents. When healthy, Cespedes is and Piazza was an elite hitter with the ability to transform a lineup just by being on the card. However, it’s now apparent that Cespedes will never have the impact on the Mets that Piazza once did.
Piazza had a profound impact in his Mets career, winning the Silver Slugger in each of his first three full seasons with the team (he also won it in 1998, the year of his trade). He was an All-Star every year in which he donned Mets colors except 2003 when he was limited to only 68 games.
Although the Mets were unable to make the playoffs in 1998, finishing a game out of the Wild Card spot, Piazza led them to the NLCS in 1999 and the World Series in 2000 (where they lost to the Derek Jeter led Yankees).
Cespedes led the Mets to the 2015 World Series after joining the team, where they lost to the Kansas City Royals. The team followed that up by reaching the Wild Card Game in 2016. Cespedes won the Silver Slugger during his first full season with the Mets in 2016.
Both players had instant impacts with the Mets the year they were acquired. Piazza hit an amazing .348 with 23 home runs in his 109 games with the team in 1998.
Cespedes hit an unfathomable 17 home runs in just 57 games as a Met in 2015. However, his average was worse than Piazza’s, as he hit a still respectable .287 in his two-month debut.
Both players signed extensions to remain with the Mets after some uncertainty about whether they would stay long-term. Piazza signed a seven-year deal, while Cespedes signed a three year deal, opted out after the first year, and then signed a four year deal that he is currently in the second year of.
Their numbers were extremely similar. Piazza slashed .296/.373/.545 during his Mets tenure. Cespedes has slashed .286/.346/.543 with the team thus far. Piazza hit a home run every 15.8 at-bats as a Met, while Cespedes has hit one every 15.4 at-bats since joining the team.
Their numbers imply that the impact Cespedes has had as a Met is extremely similar to the impact Piazza, who ESNY’s Nick LoPrinzi ranks as the fifth best Met of all time, had during his tenure with the team.
However, durability is a huge factor in baseball, and Piazza had it. Despite playing the physically demanding position of catcher, Piazza played at least 110 games every full season he spent with the Mets except his rough 2003 season. He averaged 123 games per season with the team from 1999 through 2006, and 138 from 1999 through 2002.
Cespedes however, has only played over 100 games with the Mets once, as he played 132 games in 2016 (he played 159 games in 2015, but only 57 of them with the Mets). He’s averaged only 86 games per season since 2016, including his 2018 season, which is over as he is set to undergo heel surgery.
The fact that Cespedes played on average 37 fewer games per season than Piazza did is a reason (not the only one but a big one) that the Mets struggled through 2017 and have slogged through 2018 as well. Missing the marquee bat in the lineup will take the wind out of a team’s sails big time.
The first step to being a transformative player for a franchise is, well, playing. Cespedes’ inability to do that consistently will keep him below Piazza in the halls of Mets history.