Since the middle of the 2015 season, we’ve seen a spike in home run production. The increase has been so drastic that this past offseason we saw general managers essentially being indifferent to acquiring power. The prevailing thought has been – if everyone has power, why pay a premium for it? On the last day of the 2016 season, if you had suggested publicly that Jay Bruce would have been virtually untradeable and Dexter Fowler would get a 5/$82 deal, you would have been dismissed as crazy.
Flash forward to mid-August and Bruce has a 2.1 fWAR while Fowler checks in with a 1.7 mark. Bruce has played more but Fowler has a long history of injuries so at this point, that’s part of the package. When we look at Bruce and Fowler, their overall value is similar but it comes in different forms. Yet we live in an era where one player gets over $16 million per year and the other gets traded for an A-ball pitcher with a 4.79 ERA.
You can play Fowler in center field but historically he’s been below average and this year he has a (-5.2) UZR and a (-12) DRS. Historically, he’s been a very good OBP guy with solid SB totals. This year he has a .355 OBP and 5 SB. What’s propping up his value right now is a career-high .227 ISO. Yep, everyone seemingly has power.
Which brings us to Yoenis Cespedes.
This offseason he was the exception to the rule that teams weren’t paying for power. There were a bunch of squads interested in Cespedes and he eventually inked a 4/$110 deal. Of course the thought was that Cespedes brought more to the table than just power. He was a Gold Glove Award winner and he could run. Perhaps most importantly was the idea that he was a difference maker in the lineup. His supporters loved to trot out the win-loss record for the Mets with and without Cespedes, as if he singlehandedly transformed the team to play 20-games better.
In 2017, the Mets are 30-35 (.462) when Cespedes starts and 22-27 (.449) when he doesn’t.
To be fair, Cespedes has battled injury problems of his own and has likely played games that he shouldn’t have, ones where he was nowhere close to 100 percent. We see him pick his spots to run hard, as he tries to avoid a repeat of his leg injuries. At least that’s the positive take on the situation. There were always rumors that once he got his contract that he was a risk not to give it all on the field. Here’s what John Harper of the Daily News wrote when Cespedes signed for the 2016 season with the Mets:
They can’t praise the slugger enough now that he’s theirs again but for months they made it clear privately they didn’t trust Cespedes’ motivation to play hard every day if he signed a megabucks deal.
So, the Mets are on the hook for three more years and $87.5 million in a market where teams seemingly aren’t paying for power. Not that Cespedes is producing a ton of that. His .236 ISO is down 15 points from the mark he posted in both 2015 and 2016 and his wOBA has fallen around 20 points to a .348 mark. For comparison, Bruce had a .353 wOBA and Lucas Duda had a .365 mark.
The Mets were okay with sending Bruce and Duda out of town for next to nothing, content to use the money they spent on those two players for other guys in 2018. And seemingly no one has a problem with that. But the idea that they have to pay Cespedes what they do though 2020 gets no scrutiny at all.
As is standard procedure this time of year, the Mets put Cespedes on revocable waivers. Like with most of their players, he went unclaimed, meaning no one was willing to be stuck with that contract. But what if someone claimed him?
Would the Mets have been better off if they let Cespedes go on this mythical waiver claim?
It’s not hard to imagine howls of protest with this idea. What if he wound up on the Nationals? Or even worse, what if he was now a member of the Yankees?!? Too often the optics of a move are around the alleged advantages of the other team, rather than the advantages for the Mets.
Do you think a team is going to offer Bruce 3/$30 this offseason? And which would you rather have, Bruce at that rate and nearly $60 million to apply towards pitching – or whatever you feel the team’s biggest issue is – or Cespedes? Since Cespedes joined the majors in 2012, he’s been the better player than Bruce. Since 2012, he owns a 123 to 109 edge in OPS+ and when we add non-hitting metrics into the equation, the difference only gets bigger.
But Cespedes is no longer a CF, Bruce looked better in the OF since joining the Mets than he did in Cincinnati and the leg injuries really limit Cespedes’ edge on the basepaths. And when the market really undervalues power hitting, Bruce is an extreme value, especially compared to the deal that Cespedes got this past offseason.
Everyone laments the salary that David Wright is getting, even when insurance is picking up a large chunk of it. Everyone is ready to cast Bruce and Duda aside, even though they were far out- producing their salaries. Yet few balk at Cespedes’ deal.
There’s still plenty of time for things to turn around and for the deal to be a good one. At this point in the first year of Curtis Granderson’s deal, it looked like a big bust but then he ended up with a very strong 2015. But Cespedes’ deal is about twice the size of Granderson’s. Cespedes is going to need to put in a year equivalent to his career-year in 2015, where he was productive at the plate, on the bases and with the glove, and two years noticeably better than this one in order to earn his contract.
Otherwise the Mets would be better off giving him away and re-signing Bruce.