How the Mets should replace Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis CespedesYoenis Cespedes is a beast. Physicists examine the explosion of ball off his bat for the Big Bang Theory. His home runs make fireworks look like pop caps. He runs so fast he makes Speedy Gonzalez look like regular Gonzalez. He is, the most interesting man in baseball.

Cespedes joined the New York Mets for the playoff run and not only did they reach the postseason, they were playing in the World Series. For a fan base in the largest market tired of fielding mediocre talent and losing, the surprise success was a shot in the arm – and not the steroid kind. Clearly resigning the outfielder is essential for a repeat performance in 2016, right?

Actually, no.

There’s no denying the Cuban native has outrageous raw talent. He can hit for power – 35 home runs in 2015, run blazingly fast – stealing third base in 2.92 seconds, and unleash his cannon of a right arm to home – like how he nailed Starlin Castro trying to score from second on a single to left. But as we examined Cespedes’ strengths earlier this month, we also revealed a substantial lack of polish.

I’m not going to rehash that story, but I suggest skimming through it because it makes the rest of this argument stronger.

GM Sandy Alderson traded for the left fielder/center fielder just moments before the non-waiver trade deadline expired on July 31. Coming into town from Detroit with a .293/.323/.506 slash, Cespedes first donned a New York uniform for the Mets 3-2 win over Washington on Aug. 1. Fans excitedly clamored about how their new offensive weapon would compliment a dazzling pitching staff and punch a ticket to the playoffs.

And the then 29-year-old did enjoy offensive success with the Mets. In 57 regular season games, Cespedes slashed .287/.337/.604, adding 17 home runs and 44 RBI. He performed well in August, hitting 8 home runs and sporting an .872 OPS, but it was his ridiculous end to the regular season that grabbed headlines. He finished September and October with a 1.017 OPS and 20 extra base hits – including nine home runs. He had at least a base hit in the first eight games of the month and finished the first 13 games with nine homers and 21 total hits. It was ludicrous.

Meanwhile, the organization’s strength was their starting pitching and occasionally the bullpen. Just enough offense bolstered the pitchers to an 11-0 streak during a 15-8 April, the team’s second most successful month. Clinching the NL East division in Cincinnati on Sept. 26 remains a red-letter day, but that wasn’t when they played their best. New York finished August 20-8, relegating their 16-14 September/October to third on the list.

So Cespedes looked good (still a .275/.331/.542 slash) during the team’s best month and great in one of their passable months. Some of that gets lost in the off-season clamoring to hand him a massive contract to the tune of six years/$150 million. What may not have been completely forgotten is how he disappeared in the playoffs, but that’s better discussed in our other article.

There are some other key facts that tend to get lost in the haze of the post-World Series/pre-winter period – the New York Mets also made several other personnel moves before punching their postseason ticket.

Captain David Wright played just eight April games before a hamstring strain sent him to the disabled list. While sidelined, doctors diagnosed the 32-year-old with spinal stenosis – a permanent narrowing of the back that could prematurely end his career with five more years on his contract.

Weeks and months passed as fans clamored for Wright’s return and sports reporters were left with vague answers from team officials. Finally, on Aug. 24, he came back, hitting a home run in his first at-bat and helping the Mets knock off Philly with two hits and a walk. But as the summer turned into fall, it became clear the third baseman traded power for patience. He finished the regular season slashing .289/.379/.434 with only 5 home runs but a stronger BB:K ratio than his career average.

Veteran outfielder Michael Cuddyer left western America in his rear-view mirror last winter after 14 seasons with the Minnesota Twins and Colorado Rockies, ready to be a leader and offensive threat for a resurgent New York club. Unfortunately, the now left fielder’s offensive numbers drastically declined, his defense recessed and he ended up injured. Team management was expected to replace the outfielder with a washed up or never-was veteran, but Alderson’s group made the gutsy decision to call up rookie sensation Michael Conforto.

Scouts raved about the 22-year-old’s polished collegiate bat and lampooned his shoddy defense, but Conforto surprised many in 2015. Not only did he survive Cuddyer’s return on Aug. 11, but he laid claim to the starting job. While his numbers against southpaws need improvement, the young left fielder slashed .270/.335/.506 with 14 doubles and nine home runs in 56 games. His best month of both the regular season and playoffs was – drum roll please – August. He finished with a .317/.405/.603 slash and 1.009 OPS, although some of that was likely powered by unsustainably high .356 BABIP and opposing pitchers’ lack of experience against the kid. He was mediocre in September/October and generally poor in the playoffs, although he did sport at .333/.313/.733 slash in the World Series when most Mets bats went quiet.

On the same day the rookie left fielder was called up, Alderson pulled the trigger on a deal with the division rival Atlanta Braves to solidify manager Terry Collins’ bench. Veteran utility players Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe replaced John Mayberry Jr. and Danny Muno, instantly transforming the bench from weakness to strength just in time for a playoff run.

Johnson, 33, played primarily second base for the Mets, but he did see at least nine innings at first, third, shortstop, left field and right field without making a fool of himself. At the plate he struggled in the playoffs, but slashed .250/.304/.414 in 49 games with New York. With the franchise paying a portion of his $1.5 million contract for his 10th major league season, he was an affordable security blanket.

Uribe, 36, served more in a mentorship role as a former starter at the tail end of his career. Finishing his 15th year in the major leagues, Uribe handled second base, third base and designated hitter for New York. Despite a decent eye and very powerful swing, the veteran only slashed .219/.301/.430 with six home runs in 44 regular season games. He injured his chest diving for a ground ball, spending the last few weeks of the regular season and nearly all of the postseason on the DL. Uribe did record an RBI single in his only World Series plate appearance. He was earning $6.5 million this past season.

The short version of all of that is Cespedes did help the offense, but there it wasn’t just him; injured players, callups and veteran backups played a major role. And considering he wasn’t at his best when the club was, there’s a substantial argument to be made against paying him a huge contract in favor of smaller, smarter deals. Center field, for example, is an issue entering 2016 with Juan Lagares battling injury and struggling against lefties. Denard Span disappointed in 2015, but could be a great signing on a short, team-friendly deal to prove his worth. Jason Heyward will end up signing a mega-contract, but at age 26 with a solid mix of speed, defense, power and on-base skills, he would make more sense than the power-focused Cespedes for the Mets. Wilmer Flores  showed some ability to play  shortstop with Ruben Tejada sidelined for the playoffs, but signing a solid defender with an average bat like Alexei Ramirez to a reasonable deal could bolster the infield behind the team’s stellar pitching.

14 comments for “How the Mets should replace Yoenis Cespedes

  1. Metsense
    November 29, 2015 at 10:17 am

    Span, Sipps and Johnson are an affordable alternatives without having to give up players but it does not replace Cespedes.
    Mike, your proposal of Span/Ramirez is a reasonable alternative but does not replace Cespedes either.
    If the Mets budget can afford a Cespedes or Heyward type contract then that is the route they should take. Either player would improve the offense during the next four years to maximize the pitching staff and increase the chances of winning the division.

    • November 29, 2015 at 10:43 am

      The whole theme of my argument is that Cespedes wasn’t actually a great fit for us considering he peaked after the team did and tanked in the playoffs. Replace him either piecemeal or with better talent, just not him.

      • Eric
        November 29, 2015 at 6:21 pm

        I need to take issue with how you analyse Cespedes’ season. He didn’t peak, he merely went into a slump. Everyone thought he was all world up to that point. The same happened to Murph but everyone seemed to expect it to happen. A player’s worth is guaged over an entire season and Yoenis is just a streaky guy. As for Heyward, all he does better than Yoenis is defend.

        • November 29, 2015 at 6:33 pm

          So guy exceeds his career numbers for two months and that’s the norm but when he falls apart great pitching that’s just a slump? Do the research (or just look at my other story), he feasts against bad pitchers and struggles against good pitchers.

          You’re also missing how, despite his raw talent, he lacks the polish. Always swings hard, never walks, makes the occasional questionable decision in the field and just doesn’t do the little things well.

          I have no ill wishes against him, just don’t believe he’s worth the mega contract someone will offer him.

        • Ijustfarted
          December 2, 2015 at 12:22 pm

          Cespedes is the absolute best free agent power bat. He’s in his prime and has insane power, speed and arm strength. I will gladly take any of his supposed downsides for what he provides. Mets need a legitimate power hitter in their prime. And he gives so much more with his speed and arm. There is no other free agent the mets need more than him in their lineup.

    • Rae
      November 30, 2015 at 7:50 am

      The Mets really need to sign Ben Zobrist even if they have to overpay him. If they have him and sign Span, and Kelly Johnson for a left handed back up roll this will help the Mets enormously. I wonder why the Mets are not interested in signing Alcides Escobar? I know they would loose a draft pick but they will gain a pick when someone else signs Murphy so Escobar should be on their radar. If you get Escobar you do not need Zobrist. Instead you move Wilmer to 2B, bring up Reynolds as a back up infielder, but still they will need to sign a lefty bat so I still advocate for them to sign Kelly Johnson. If they get Escobar, Johnson and Span it might be enough to replace Murphy’s production, and would help them to score many more runs. They will still miss Cespedes’ power but both Span and Escobar can hit, and Span still has speed and we know Escobar can fly. The Mets need to employ the Royals ideal of putting the ball in play, getting on base, running and stealing bases, learning how to catch and throw the ball. Escobar at SS and Flores at 2B makes sense. Wright needs to play 1st as he can no longer throw the ball, and it is unlikely he can play the OF as he has no arm left. Duda sucks against lefties so Wright moving to 1st makes sense.

    • COACH VOGEL
      November 30, 2015 at 10:38 am

      You are right. I as a long, long time Met fan i really do not care how much Wilpon spends, if he can’t afford the Mets let him sell the team

      Editor’s Note – Please do not capitalize words in your post, as that is a violation of our Comment Policy.

    • Joe Mets Fan
      November 30, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      After Yasiel Puig’s bar room brawl, Sandy Alderson should be able to get him without having to trade a top starter.

  2. TexasGusCC
    November 29, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Mike, I totally agree with your premise, but the reasoning seems off. When Wright came back on August 24th, we were 24 days in already and hard to believe Wright made a difference when he only hit .269 with a .751 OPS with 1 RBI in six games played – although it was a majestic one! Rather his .280/.385/.452 September is probably what helped. Rather Granny, Uribe, Conforto and TDA were more the cause of a great August in addition to our new shiny star from Detroit.

    My problem with Cespedes is more approach than stats; I see the me first antics as hurting a team in the long run. Successful winning seasons involve players all buying in to sacrifice. I never saw that in Cespedes.

    Yes, he wants to win, I’m sure of that. But, he doesn’t adjust his swing to the count or the situation. He doesn’t walk any, so pitchers throw the ball in the dirt often going past the catcher, but Yoenis doesn’t do first base the cheap way. He isn’t a good CF and continuing him there would be a detriment.

    I would love to give Yoenis an incentive laden contract with a very low base and an understanding that he will be standing in RF next year. Only then…

    • Eric
      November 29, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      Wow, just can’t believe how quickly Mets fans jumped off the Cespedes bandwagon. I would venture a guess you wouldn’t be saying this if he had a good Series.

      • TexasGusCC
        November 29, 2015 at 7:38 pm

        Eric, you may be right. But the truth is, he didn’t. It was a big stage and he misplayed two big fly balls, never adjusted his swing except for taking that walk in game 4 before being doubled off on the liner because it looked to me he wanted to breakup a potential game ending DP since Duda isn’t a good runner, and never once shortened his stroke whether he was wailing away at high 3-1 pitches or 2 strike low and away stuff that went to the backstop.

        He will always be this player. Mike is right above saying Cespedes has never been as good as he was for those two months and signing him to a long term deal and expecting those two months may be unrealistic.

        I said earlier, sign him to an incentive laden contract that could get him big money if he achieves. No one will ever sign that of course, but it shows you the belief I have that he can repeat.

  3. Matty Mets
    November 29, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    Cespedes’ impact on our offense goes beyond stats. Having a legit right handed power threat in the middle of the lineup was a catalyst. Everyone around him saw better pitches. I don’t want to see the Mets give any hitter a monster 5+ years/20+MM contract. I think we need to take the approach of the post Pujols Cardinals – lock up our own key guys while they’re young anf fill in with smart mid-priced FAs.

  4. Meticated
    November 30, 2015 at 5:07 am

    Cespedes is certainly an enigma wrapped around a conundrum.. He appeared to get a jump on National league pitchers who hadn’t faced him yet, though superior pitchers like Greinshaw punched his ticket. He has priced himself out of our wallet; limited as that may be historically. My sense is we go with Zobrist, Span, and a known quantity like Johnson. Not sexy. But it again looks like we are going small ball(s) within a small market team mentality. If our offense smells like old fish again, I for one am gonna be grinding my teeth, and sharpening my pencil to excoriate the Coupons as frauds. At intermission, we can replicate the Sandy shuffle as in 2015, and acquire some lumber for spare parts, but this cannot be our Modus Operandi for too long, lest we bankrupt the farm. Personally, I say bite the bullet Fred and sign Heyward. Word to the wise, Jeffy and Saulkatz, Tushies in seats always outweigh Billboards with venomous intent. Act like we wear big boy pants Sterling Mets: and deserve a return to the gold ring derby.

  5. Eric
    December 2, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    We agree but I don’t see it happening.

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