A few days ago, the site featured a poll asking readers, in a dream scenario, to pick one thing to happen for the 2020 Mets. The choices were to trade for Mookie Betts, get a full season from Yoenis Cespedes, sign Gerrit Cole, sign Anthony Rendon, or other. Here are the current results of the poll:
41% – Cespedes
22% – Rendon
16% – Cole
14% – Betts
6% — Other
The results are shocking to me. It would have taken me four guesses to arrive at the actual leader in this poll. My vote went to Cole based on the fact that the Mets are going from Zack Wheeler to a giant question mark in the rotation and the upgrade from question mark to Cole is greater than the upgrade any of the other choices offered.
Perhaps the upgrade from the flotsam and jetsam that the Mets used for three months in center field last year would make trading for Betts worthwhile, especially if he was able to rebound towards his 2018 numbers. But it seems the cost for acquiring Betts would have to be factored into the equation and it’s hard to imagine any scenario where Boston trades him for spare parts. Still, anyone who picked this option made a solid choice.
My expectation was that Rendon would win this poll. He’s an excellent player, one who’s put up three consecutive eye-popping years. His 2019 season was his best one yet, as he posted a career-high 7.0 fWAR and followed that up with a great postseason, being an integral part of the Nationals’ World Series win. My opinion is that he won’t be worth the contract that he gets this offseason. Yet no one should be unhappy with adding a guy who put up 19.9 fWAR over the past three years.
Which brings us to Cespedes.
Usually my complaint is when the team picks up a veteran who hasn’t done much lately but was good on another team three years ago. But choosing this route is picking the veteran who was last good on the Mets three years ago. Odds are stacked against Betts, Cole or Rendon being in a Mets uniform in 2020. And maybe that’s what the voters were thinking, despite the fact that it was explicitly stated as a dream scenario. Either that or the memories of his first two months in 2015 carried a huge weight.
If we took those two months in 2015 and had him producing like that for all six months of the year, Cespedes would have a 7.8 fWAR, which would make him a legitimate choice in this poll. But the fact is that Cespedes has never produced at that level over a full season. His high was his actual 2015, when he put up a 5.8 fWAR split between the Tigers and Mets. After that, his best mark was the 4.0 fWAR he notched in his 2012 rookie season. Those are good numbers; they just don’t compare to what Betts, Cole and Rendon have done in their careers.
Plus we now have Cespedes trying to get back into form at age 34, after missing all of last season and most of 2018, too. Surgery on both heels and surgery to repair multiple fractures in his right ankle are what’s kept him out most of the past two seasons. Prior to that, Cespedes had other leg injuries, which led fans to believe that his hamstrings were the weak part of his body. It’s possible the heels were causing the hamstring issues. Or it’s possible that we have three different body areas about which to be concerned.
But let’s say that the voters in the poll get their wish and that Cespedes comes back and plays in 140 or so games in 2020. What would the Mets get from him? Right now there’s only one projection system forecast available at FanGraphs. The Steamer forecast is for 54 games and 237 PA. It gives him an .813 OPS and a 0.7 fWAR.
A healthy Cespedes likely knocks J.D. Davis from a starting role on the team, at least with the current makeup of the club. Steamer forecasts a .789 OPS and a 1.1 fWAR from Davis in 117 games and 478 PA. At these rates, over 140 games, Cespedes would be a slight improvement over Davis, but nothing about which to get excited.
Of course, Davis would become a productive bench member and that would add something to the equation, too. It might give the team the best bench in the majors. But the team would have the same bench configuration if the big add was Betts or Rendon. And Steamer projects those two for a 6.6 and a 5.5 fWAR in 2020, respectively.
Still, we’re going with Cespedes. Let’s look at a potential lineup for the club with a healthy Cespedes:
It’s fun to think about the offensive potential of that lineup. Just don’t spend too long considering the defensive implications. Defense is another reason why Betts or Rendon would have been a better pick. Cespedes won a Gold Glove Award back in 2015 and was a decent choice, too. But it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to be a positive in the field at his age and with his assorted injuries.
Despite all of that, it will be fun to see Cespedes back in action, assuming that the video we saw of him taking batting practice means he’s on pace to play at least some games here in 2020. He’s been productive while with the Mets, amassing an 8.8 fWAR in 308 games. Here’s hoping we see him in games this season.