Ask a committed Mets fan what his fondest hopes are for his team in 2016 and he (or she) will likely say: all the starting pitchers stay healthy as do David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud. In addition to that they would want to see the team knock off the Nationals again for the National League East crown. And then they would be hoping for a long successful playoff run resulting in a World Series and ticker tape parade. The End.
Surely to accomplish all that the team will need a significant contribution from center fielder/left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. It would be hard to imagine the Mets going all the way if Cespedes channels his inner Jason Bay (or Michael Cuddyer for that matter) and has a very tepid season.
But the Cespedes story is complicated by the fact that he signed a three year, $75 million deal with the Mets that includes an opt out option for the player at the end of the first year. Should he opt out the Mets, in addition to having paid him $25 mill for the season would kick in a lovely parting gift of $2.5 million.
So now the question becomes how good a season could Cespedes have without triggering a decision on the part of Team Cespedes, meaning him, his family and agents, to take the opt out.
Let’s play with this.
First I recorded the projections from three well respected systems, Pecota, Steamer, and Marcel. With established players they usually all tend to agree on what can be expected of a player. Indeed they all think he will be in the HR range of 26-28, RBI range of 87-91, and an OPS range of 776-812. So really the projections look very much alike.
The average of the projections comes to: 602 plate appearances, 27 homers, 89 RBI, a .266 BA, .311 on base percentage, and .482 slugging percentage. This gives him an OPS of 793. I prefer to toss the decimal point out when discussing that metric.
Now let us look at five scenarios. One is if he hits exactly those projections and the four others include his being over or under them by 10% or 20%.
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Looking at the worst scenario we see that if he is 20% below the projections he delivers an OPS of 634. To demonstrate how bad that is you only have to know that Cuddyer’s one year with the Amazins resulted in a 699 OPS and this is way worse than that. Should this season happen it is tough to imagine the team reaching the World Series and Cespedes would be insane to opt out of his contract while Mets’ ownership and fandom would likely be praying that he does.
But that is an extreme example.
More plausible is his missing his projection by 10%. His 714 OPS would be a disappointment (right between Jason Bay’s first year OPS of 749 and Cuddyer’s 699) and would make it extremely difficult for the team to win the NL East unless some other people step up big time.
Regarding the opt out I would guess he would not opt out off of that season even though the free agent class for hitters figures to be a weak one. Probably the team and its fans wouldn’t care too much if he did opt out since there would be almost $50 million freed against the 2017 and 2018 payrolls. And when the Mets give Cespedes the Qualifying Offer they would be in position to get a supplementary 1st round draft pick when he signs elsewhere.
In the next scenario up he comes in right where the projections are predicting. He was likely signed with the idea that this is what he is going to produce. Should he do this the Mets could win the World Series – if many other things go right – and he most likely would opt out or ask Mets management to extend him a year or two more at a salary between $25 and $30 million per season. We know how reticent Sandy Alderson is to offer longer contracts so my guess is that the Mets would not take the player up on the offer.
In the top two scenarios the chance of the Mets having a great season is very much enhanced. The opt out would be surely deployed. The player would undoubtedly move on to greener (pun intended) pastures. But here again money will be freed for payroll and there will be the extra 1st round pick.
So the sweet spot would seem to be Cespedes coming in at his projection or perhaps up to 5% below it. In those situations the player stays and the team has a great chance of succeeding.