Reese Kaplan -- Preparing for a Post-Cespedes Team

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?


Thomas Brennan said...

Don't have the fans saying, "OH NO, NO YO". Sign him and shed whatever else you need to do to make it work. We hit like spit without him, 2017 would be ugly if he is gone. No mincing words.

Keep in mind Flores got off to a miserable start, so there is no telling what he'd do offensively with 500 + at bats. Of course, give him a big piece of chalk, send him to the blackboard, and let him write 500 times, "I will not slide head first into the catcher."

It is hard to sell really low - I would give the combo of d'Arnaud and Rivera one more try in 2017, saving money towards the Cespy Retention Fund. Sometimes guys bounce back big.

Tommie Agee (a poor man's Cespedes), after the Bob Gibson "welcome to the NL" spring training beaning in 1968, had just 5 homers and a d'Arnaud-like 17 RBI in nearly 400 plate appearances, hitting .217. Awful. But, in 1969, 26 HR, 76 RBI, .271, and 24/75, .286 in 1970. We trade d'Arnaud, watch him pull a Turner/Murphy and have a bust-out "Agee 1969" year.

Reese Kaplan said...

Obviously the best answer is to sign Cespedes but I'm suggesting that the team needs to figure out Plan B in advance of the inevitable departure. Witness last year when they figured David Wright was a fixture at 3B and instead we got Eric Campbell. Wouldn't it be nice for them to plan ahead for once?

Thomas Brennan said...

Couldn't agree more, Reese. We need to get Nevercampbell bumper stickers made up for Met fans. On the other side of the bumper, SignCespedes stickers

Thomas Brennan said...

Couldn't agree more, Reese. We need to get Nevercampbell bumper stickers made up for Met fans. On the other side of the bumper, SignCespedes stickers

Eddie Corona said...

Reese Not a bad article for Tuesday morning... Yes we should consider life after Cespedes...
If we do Lose Cespedes (which I will reiterate SHOULD NEVER HAPPEN)... I dont think Bruce is option with or without Cespedes... He didnt want to be here and his play didnt leave him any rope either... If he get off to a bad start then he will be crushed to a point I dont think he will recover or have any value... Sell high (not to say its very high)...
i am on board with getting McCutchen with and without cespedes... but focusing on without cespedes... I think we need more... I would be ok with Grandy LF, McCutchen CF, in the OF but I think we need another OFer... Maybe the roylas would trade Cain ? Maybe we can take a shot at Puig? maybe we take a shot at Matt Holiday? but I think losing cespedes means we replace him with 2 player for the amount he earned this year (27.5 mil)
and i am not casting off Conforto cause I am jumping on board with the Idea of him at 1B for a year or 2 ...
(next year I figure he goes to LF for grandy)...
But bruce and duda can be traded... walker should not be on the team this year (either by not offering him the QO or if we do trade him too)...

Separate note... I think flores is what we have seen him to be a 16 hr, 60 rbi in 300 at guy... any more and he is more of a liability... sometimes you are what you are and not more...

Eddie Corona said...

Also just read a article by Harper about the mets needing to acquire Jansen... this would be a major pick up and on I would agree with... Yes all in on cespedes then all in on building a killer bullpen, Familia, Jansen, Reed (in any order needed) with the staff we have... we should be able to compete with anyone...

Thomas Brennan said...

Jansen, Reed, Familia...would be Mets' best pen EVER.

eraff said...

5 years 30/30/30/25/25: 140 Million Guaranteed. He can Opt out after 3--- he's 33/34 with a possible big ticket ahead. Mets can opt out after 4---10 million buyout

Here are the Guarantees
3 Years- 90
4 Years--- 115... if mets opt out, 125
5 Years----140

This is an expansion on every concept in the existing agreement--it builds on it---it rewards performance in everyt way---He can opt out at 3 and re-sign another huge deal.

If he stays for all 5, it's 28 Million/year

I expect him to sign something structured as I presented, with similar dollars as I presented.

He will be back!

Thomas Brennan said...

Great plan, I agree

TP said...

I think it is less than 50/50 that Cespedes returns. This is a business first, and while Yo has seemed to enjoy his time with the Mets, there will almost certainly be another team that will throw Heyward-like money at him. Dare I say it might even be the Yankees (ouch).

Losing him will hurt but it shouldn't kill them. They have organizational depth and 2017 will depend on the health of the big arms regardless.

I am very bullish on another big arm in the back of the pen, be it by free agency, by trade, or by moving a big starter to the back end mix to increase depth and options.

Despite the continued Met offensive struggles TDA worries me most behind the plate and how his shortcomings effect the pitchers. I actually consider the catching solution to be more important than resigning Cespedes.

Reese Kaplan said...

That is my point, too, TP. When big dollars are at stake, it's very difficult to walk away from them. See part two of this story tomorrow.

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