There’s not much that can be said about the impact Yoenis Cespedes has had on the Mets’ fortunes. Not only is his presence in the lineup clearly the most dominant hitting the franchise has ever seen (Mike Piazza included), but it’s probably allowed some of the other players who felt the pressure to be “The Guy” relax a bit and flourish – Travis d’Arnaud, Michael Conforto and even Wilmer Flores.
Both here and in columns all over the media there’s been rampant speculation on what it will cost to lock up Cespedes to a new contract. The Mets are in a position the other 29 teams do not enjoy which is the opportunity to negotiate in-season for his services, but once the World Series ends all bets are off and he’s a free agent available to the highest bidder. Free agents traditionally acquire their new deals based not on what they’re expected to do, but what they have done (and more specifically, what they have done most recently). For that reason alone, Cespedes may be pushing that heretofore unimagined $200 million contract plateau usually reserved for the most elite players in the game.
Now one can debate back and forth all day whether or not he belongs in the same stratosphere as Robinson Cano, Giancarlo Stanton, Miguel Cabrera and Alex Rodriguez, but if he was able to replicate what he’s done in his New York trial then he most certainly does. However, looking back at his career he’s been a free swinger with poor on-base skills good for driving in runs but not necessarily even the best hitter on his own team.
Now the Mets have been on the downward spiral for payroll for quite some time now, yet even the most jaded Wilpon detractors have to admit they loosened the purse strings this year to bring on the likes of Cespedes, Tyler Clippard, Juan Uribe, Kelly Johnson, Addison Reed and (you can’t win ‘em all) Eric O’Flaherty. The results of these investments have included not only first place in the NL East, but an explosion in attendance, relevancy in media and they’ve effectively (with an assist from the Toronto Blue Jays) shoved the Yankees off the pedestal that represents New York baseball.
So what happens if at year end those cross-town rivals realize that Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner are getting neither younger nor healthier? Or what if the Angels seek to fill the void left by Josh Hamilton? Or what if the Mets simply feel his asking price or contract duration is bad business? What then?
Like a young couple’s first conversation about life insurance, no one wants to talk about a possible negative future. However, the reality is that you have to have a Plan B in case Plan A doesn’t unfold as you’d intended. So in terms of the Mets, if for whatever reason Cespedes is not here for the 2016 season, what are the alternatives?
Other Free Agent Acquisitions
- Alex Gordon – He’s a solid player with a team option. It’s unlikely KC would let him walk but they did bid goodbye to KC lifer Billy Butler, so anything is possible.
- Jason Heyward – While he’s never quite matched his stellar 2012 Braves season when he clubbed 27 HRs and drove in 82, he’s a Gold Glove fielder, just 26 years old and may be inked by the Cardinals before going on the open market. He’s hitting .292 for them, though with just 11 HRs and 53 RBIs which is somewhat surprising for the big 6’5” right fielder. At his age he’s just entering his prime, so if he does hit the market he might have room to grow. For the Mets, they may pass as they’re lefty-heavy already with Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Lucas Duda.
- Justin Upton – The 3-time All Star is having a nice year for the San Diego Padres showing both power (25 HRs) and speed (19 SBs). However, they’re likely to let him walk given their need to rebuild yet again. He’s right handed which would help more in balancing the Mets’ offensive attack and at age 28 still with plenty of mileage left on the clock.
- Gerardo Parra – Like Yoenis Cespedes, he chose to peak at just the right time entering free agency. He traveled from Milwaukee to Baltimore in a July trade, but things have not gone well since joining the American League. He’s still hitting .294 overall with his usual stellar defense, but only .225 in an Orioles uniform. A career .277 lefty hitter, he might be an interesting and solid platoon option with Juan Lagares in CF. This approach could work if the Mets were confident that full seasons from David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda, Michael Conforto and continued development of Wilmer Flores and Dilson Herrera would compensate for the loss of Yoenis Cespedes.
They could form a platoon with Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares in centerfield, though Nimmo has just a partial season at AAA under his belt and Lagares’ health is still a question mark. The usual suspects – Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Darrell Ceciliani, Eric Campbell, et al are likely AAAA or bench players. They could re-sign a guy like Kelly Johnson but he’s probably better served in the veteran bench role than starting every day. Michael Cuddyer is still around (and on the payroll for another year), but it’s unlikely they want to go with an outfield left to right of Conforto, Granderson and Cuddyer on a regular basis. In-house options are ugly.
This one is a wildcard. It is beyond your control as it takes two to tango and there’s no way to force other teams into trading players you covet. Still, it is possible they could pull something out of thin air by offering up, say, a Lucas Duda and pitching, sliding Cuddyer into 1B as a one-year solution. That combination might bring you back a solid outfielder. You also have some spare parts in Dilson Herrera (if you see Flores as more of a second baseman than shortstop), Matt Reynolds (now that Gavin Cecchini has seemingly pushed ahead of him on the prospect chart), Kevin Plawecki and Brandon Nimmo (if you’re going after an outfielder).
What is your Plan B if Cespedes leaves for GREENER pastures?