Mets fans seem to fall into two distinct camps – those that bleed orange and blue, and those that beat themselves black and blue. It’s rare to find someone not in one of the polar extreme camps. The former group is 100% confident that Yoenis Cespedes will be back. They feel David Wright will be rested and ready to go. They have faith that Neil Walker represents a good value at 2B. They feel Lucas Duda is the kind of power threat that scares opposing hitters. They feel that the Fab Five will emerge from Spring Training healthy and firing fastballs past opposing hitters.
I’m sorry, but as a professional project manager my job is to plan for contingencies and to assume worst case scenarios. The first one is that Yoenis Cespedes will indeed go for the money when offered elsewhere. Be realistic. Remember when Jose Reyes was in a similar situation after winning a batting title? Fans like to think players are loyal to a club, but as Reyes demonstrated, even when you’ve been with only one club who has nurtured you throughout your career, money talks. Why else would Alex Rodriguez, for example, have gone to the then depths of the AL West to play for Texas except that they offered the most money? Why would Robinson Cano go to Seattle? Why did Zach Greinke abandon the Dodgers for Arizona? I don’t want Cespedes to leave, but for once I’d like to see the club plan for the possibility of this unwanted change happening.
What does a Mets lineup look like without Yoenis Cespedes in it? Frankly, it’s pretty depressing.
“But remember, you’re getting Wright and Duda back, so there’s the power…” or so sayeth my glass half full Mets fan friends. I remember that David Wright has been a mostly unproductive player since 2011. He had one rebound year in 2012 but it’s going into 2017 and he’s not someone you can count on at all. Rather than crossing fingers and hoping for the best, the team needs to have a plan. Do you sense a theme here?
The same is true of Lucas Duda and Neil Walker. Back injuries are very tricky and it could be foolish or expensive to put all your eggs in these fragile baskets. In Duda’s case, it may be worth rolling the dice considering he’s still on the lower end of the salary spectrum even with arbitration eligibility. On Walker, there’s no way a smart business person would gamble $17.2 million on Qualifying Offer which he may very well accept since his value is going to be depressed until he can prove to the baseball community he’s healthy and productive once again. It’s possible you might want to engage him without the QO and offer a deal for a longer period of time at a lower average annual value, but if they were unwilling to do so with a healthy and productive Daniel Murphy, I can’t really see it happening. Furthermore, you have alternatives in TJ Rivera, Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores (with Gavin Cecchini in the wings) so Mr. Walker should be headed elsewhere.
I think you have to go into the 2017 season thinking you have no Cespedes, an injured Wright, an unhealthy Duda and no Walker. As such, what do you do about generating some offense? After all, with these four players gone, that’s about 110 or so home runs missing from the batting totals.
Show some faith in Michael Conforto. Yes, he did get a little homer-happy last year but he seemed to correct what ailed him in Las Vegas. Of course, by the time he returned it was all veterans, all the time in the OF, so he pretty much rotted on the bench. He’s probably a 25 HR threat if given regular playing time. That’s about what you’d have gotten out of David Wright if he was healthy. That solves problem number one.
Re-sign Jay Bruce. Yes, he stunk up the joint for the first part of his brief Mets career, but came alive when it counted and showed you that he, like Duda, is a streaky but productive hitter. More importantly, he’s completely healthy. That makes up for the loss of Duda.
Get Wilmer Flores 500+ ABs. Did you see what he did this past season? He had 16 HRs and 49 RBIs in just over 300 ABs. That’s 30 HR power being squandered while the Skipper inexplicably gave ABs to James Loney, Eric Campbell and others. That makes up for the loss of Neil Walker.
Now we come to the elephant in the room. How do you account for the loss of Yoenis Cespedes? My answer is that you don’t. There are no top five bats just waiting to replace him at a comparable or lower cost. What you need to do is explore a new direction for the club.
One thing to consider is how left-handed heavy the lineup is already. With Conforto, Bruce and Granderson you have about 85 HRs from that side of the plate. If Flores plays regularly, you have 25-30 from the right side and Cabrera would add another 20. You need a third right handed slugger to balance things out but it could be another in the 20+ HR mold if he also adds other dimensions to winning ballgames such as baserunning speed.
One name bandied about already is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Andrew McCutchen. He’s a right handed bat who plays centerfield (and won a Gold Glove there earlier in his career). He averages .292/24/87 with 22 SBs. Having him in CF would enable them to properly play Granderson in a corner outfield position and convert Bruce or Conforto to 1B.
Getting McCutchen wouldn’t be easy considering he earns a modest $14 million with an option for $14.75 for 2018 (or a $1 million buyout). I’m not sure what kind of package it would take, but for sure it would sting.
At 2B I’d give the nod to Jose Reyes with TJ Rivera watching over his shoulder closely (and Gavin Cecchini from afar in Las Vegas). At 3B it should be Wilmer Flores. With Reyes and McCutcheon in the lineup there is a dimension of speed that was lacking in the past and that could help make up for the slight downturn in power.
If somehow you were able to pull off the McCutchen deal then I’d almost be willing to give Travis d’Arnaud one last shot at the starting catcher job. I’d already suggested Willson Contreras from the Cubs as the best other option who might be available as they have nowhere to play him if Kyle Schwarber returns behind the dish. With slim pickings on the catcher front, I don’t see they have much choice. Wilson Ramos just went under the knife and won’t be available until probably June, though that could depress what would otherwise have been an interesting bidding war.
So what if I’m wrong? Suppose Wright is healthy and smacking the ball with authority. Suppose Lucas Duda is ready to rock? Hey, aren’t those NICE PROBLEMS to have?