One of the biggest names on this winter’s free agent market is the star of the Mets’ lineup, Yoenis Cespedes. On Tuesday, I discussed two of the other big free agent prizes on the market, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and what the Blue Jays’ course of action should be regarding two of their most important players. Today’s focus shifts to the Mets, whose power hitting outfielder signed a three year deal prior to last season, but it came with an opt-out after 2016, which he has already exercised. That leaves the Mets with a big decision – a franchise-altering decision – to make on its most valuable offensive player.
When I say it’s their decision, I really mean that all of the cards are in the Mets’ favor. All indications are that Cespedes loves playing in New York and the Mets are the team he wants to be a part of. I believe it. Assuming that’s true, it would mean that the Mets wouldn’t have to offer more than any other team for his services, but just match anyone’s best offer. Cespedes had trouble finding the long-term deal he wanted last winter, but that shouldn’t be the case this year in a much weaker free agent class. He is arguably the biggest prize on the market and should have no problem getting a five or six year deal.
Whether the Mets are willing to offer that remains to be seen, but they would be foolish not to. The Mets have a lot of power in their lineup – they set a franchise record in round-trippers in 2016 – but Cespedes was the only legitimate middle-of-the-order bat on the team. The Mets are loaded with guys who hit a lot of home runs but hit about .250 or below, like Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce, and Lucas Duda, not to mention all of those hitters are left-handed. Not counting switch hitters, the Mets do not have a single quality right-handed hitter projected to be a regular starter other than David Wright, whose long-term health remains a serious cause for concern.
One of the criticisms of Cespedes is that he is less of an elite player than he is made out to be. For example, he is only a .271 career hitter with an underwhelming .325 on-base percentage. However, the batting average is dragged down by a poor 2013 season he had with Oakland, which was just his second in the majors. As for his on-base skills, Cespedes had shown much improved plate discipline since the trade to Mets, and carries a .348 clip in a season and a half with the team. His OPS was a career best .884 last year.
Sure, the Mets are a team built around their starting pitching, but if they lose Cespedes and don’t replace him with a comparable middle-of-the-order presence (Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, etc.), it’s hard to believe they will be able to score enough to support their strong pitching. In 2016, the Mets gave up the third fewest amount of runs in the majors and still just squeaked into a wild card spot by one game. You can point to the fact that better health from the likes of Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Jacob deGrom will make their pitching even better, but really how much better will it be? Maybe with some luck, they can finish first instead of third in pitching, but that may not make much of a difference. The Mets’ offense was only tied for 25th in baseball even with Cespedes, so losing him could very well give the Mets one of the worst offenses in all of baseball. It also can’t be understated how much a hitter with Cespedes’ presence helps out the rest of a lineup. It’s something that statistics can’t quantify, but naturally pitchers will give the hitters in front of him better pitches to hit.
Lastly, there would be serious PR implications of letting Cespedes walk. While front offices shouldn’t make decisions based on how they think their fans will react to them, it’s safe to say that the New York fans will be infuriated if the Mets don’t make a serious attempt to re-sign Cespedes. After all, New York is the biggest sports market in the country, and it’s a little puzzling how frugal the Mets have been in free agency for the past half-decade. Ever since Jason Bay signed his contract prior to the 2010 season, the Mets have not been major players in free agency. Maybe they were scared off by what would become a disastrous contract, but the problem was that time period coincided with an inability to produce many good hitting prospects. Before signing Cespedes last year, the Mets were basically managing like a low-budget, small market team. Most importantly now, the Mets are relevant again. They’ve just made consecutive playoff appearances for the second time in franchise history and have a real chance to be a World Series contender again in 2017. What better time to go all in even if it means giving out a contract that is slightly past your comfort zone? Plus, there will come a time where the core of the Mets’ elite starting rotation will all hit free agency around the same time. They’ll probably have to choose which ones they want to keep, so they may as well go big now when their brilliant young pitchers are all still under contract.
Yoenis Cespedes has become a fan favorite in the Big Apple and he loves playing there. You could say he has turned the franchise’s fortunes around more than any player since Mike Piazza. General Manager Sandy Alderson can’t afford to blow this. Although some reports have led people to believe the Mets aren’t interested in a long term deal, that’s not necessarily true, and as Barry Bloom of MLB.com reports, Alderson is well aware of the slugger’s importance to the club and would love to have him back. “All things considered, we’d love to have him back”. Mets fans would likely love to see him back too, whatever the cost.