With all of the acrimony about the Mets’ refusal to entertain a return of Yoenis Cespedes, I got to thinking what was really the issue here? He’s a quality ballplayer for sure, and arguably better than anyone currently on the offensive side of the roster. He carried the team on his back and catapulted the Mets into their first post-season in seemingly forever and their first World Series appearance in 15 years. All of these facts are well documented already. However, I don’t think that’s the crux of the issue at all.
What Mets fans tasted last year was something that’s been lacking since soon-to-be-Hall-of-Famer Mike Piazza departed for San Diego and later Oakland. What he had was a presence in the lineup that could turn the game around with a single swing of the bat. As long as the game was within 4 runs and you knew Mike Piazza was coming up, then you wouldn’t want to get up for a beer or flip the channel because you knew his at-bat had the potential to be something special.
During this past summer Yoenis Cespedes brought that kind of magic to the Mets ballclub. It wasn’t simply the homers. It was the fear in the opposing pitchers’ eyes and the belief that as long as Yo was scheduled to hit then the game wasn’t really over.
There have been other must-see ABs by Mets players in the past. During the lean years of the 1970s and early 1980s Dave Kingman provided those kind of will he or won’t he moments (though in his case it was going to be a K or long ball and not much else).
As good as the 1986 team was, there were hitters all around the lineup who could help contribute to victories. Sorry, but Gary Carter coming to the plate was a good thing but not a legendary thing. Ditto Keith Hernandez. That team could win a multitude of ways with the baserunning of Mookie Wilson and Lenny Dykstra , the balls up the gap from Ray Knight and Wally Backman, and of course the stellar pitching. They didn’t have that Roy Hobbsian Wonderboy element yet managed to dominate their way to the incredible Game 6 comeback and Game 7 win.
What Yoenis Cespedes did for the team last year is undeniable but if you look at his track record it was also unsustainable. The Cuban basher was a solid if not superstar caliber player good for 25 HRs and 88 RBIs prior to this one breakout season. Now, no one would turn down that kind of production, but it’s not the stuff on which Cooperstown careers are built. Baseballreference.com has him ranked just barely inside the top 1000 players of all time between luminaries like Jason Kipnis and Manny Mota.
While everyone is rightfully frustrated about the lie perpetrated that the team would spend when they contended and the gate receipts increased, doling out David Wright money to another player providing good but unspectacular production would be bad business all around. Yes, they could use another centerfield option – perhaps a speed burner like Denard Span or Ben Revere – to add a dimension to their attack, but with the Madoff mess still very much a part of the Wilpons’ collective debt it’s unlikely to see superstar sluggers getting long term deals for the foreseeable future.