By Ryan Draghi
In his first year of a three-year $75 million contract with the New York Mets, Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes continued to impress with dominant, all-star numbers. After an incredible second-half run in 2015 and an eventual world series appearance sparked by the power hitting outfielder, the organization and fans expected big things for 2016. Cespedes exceeded expectations, leading the team in HR, RBI, OBP, SLG%, and OPS. Although he often praises New York and has told reporters he would love to play with the team the rest of his career, his future with the franchise is quite uncertain.
Last January the Mets announced they had signed their star outfielder to a three-year deal. However, the contract included an opt-out clause after the first year. With MLB salaries on the rise up from $3.25 million per year two years ago to an average of $4.25 million(according to Associated Press), All-Stars are demanding more and more money every year. This 30% increase in MLB salaries has created doubt within the Mets’ organization about Cespedes’ contract. The Mets “fully expect Cespedes to opt out of his deal,” said beat writer Adam Rubin. If Cespedes wears a different uniform in 2017, are the Mets doomed?
Although on paper it appears that Cespedes leaving would hurt the Mets, further analysis would prove the contrary. Of course, it is preferred to have the two time all-star back in blue and orange next season, but Mets would be able to overcome the loss of a player who ranked 61st in WAR in 2016. Sandy Alderson’s five year plan has finally begun to manifest itself through success as the Mets clinched back to back playoff berths for only the third time in franchise history and the first time in 16 years. Alderson built his team around young, hard throwing pitchers including Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob Degrom, Steven Matz and veteran Bartolo Colon who gave the team identity and success. Although several of the young aces failed to stay healthy in 2016, the Mets still ranked first in team pitching WAR(24.8), first in FIP(3.57) and third in ERA(3.58). When healthy, this combination of young arms is arguably the best staff in the league and only getting better.
Furthermore, the Mets pitching gets even better during the latter innings. Set up man Addison Reed had a career year posting a sub 2.00 ERA with 40 holds and a WHIP of 0.94(Mets.com). In addition, all-star closer, Jeryus Familia has experienced postseason struggles but still led the league in saves in 2016 with 51. The key to success the past couple of seasons for the Mets has been good pitching throughout the game. If the team focuses on that aspect of the game, they will continue to be a playoff team even without Cespedes.
Additionally, the outfield would still be a strength for the team considering their depth. Young players, who have already proved success in the big leagues, such as Michael Conforto, Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares are viable replacements. Undoubtedly, Conforto struggled in 2016, especially against left-handed pitching, but the 10th overall pick showed great promise and timeliness as he belted two HRs and batted .313 in the World Series last year to go along with a .270 batting average in the regular season. If Conforto continues to hit the ball the other way he could potentially be the next man up for Cespedes. Another replacement is gold-glover Juan Lagares, who frankly does not compare to Cespedes as a hitter, but makes up for it with his fielding. A very useful late inning defensive player could become an everyday starter if his offensive game can continue to improve. The youngest of the three, smiley Brandon Nimmo, has also made his case that he can be an everyday MLB outfielder. Nimmo tore up AAA last year hitting .352 and finally got his chance when Conforto began to struggle. The 23-year-old from Wyoming gave the Mets a spark during a low point in their season and finished out his first stint with a .274 average with six home runs in just 30 games. Lastly, New York has two savvy power hitting veterans under contract for 2017, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce, who both ended the year with hot streaks. Both players hit over 30 home runs last season and although one could argue production value for both players have decreased, they do not have to play everyday because of the outfield depth. Mets manager Terry Collins has options and can alternate these two in left field depending who is hot. Even without Cespedes, the New York Mets have plenty reasonable options in 2017.
There is no doubt that bringing Cespedes back would help the team considering his contribution to the team as a whole. However, the team would not crumble without him because he is a bit overrated. The Mets have not had a hitter of his caliber since perhaps Carlos Delgado, so fans value a him more than they should. All fans know Cespedes is a great player, but in 2016 he ranked outside of the top 60 players for WAR in and batted under .300, according to Fangraphs. These numbers prove that he is replaceable. Lastly, Cespedes may have led the team in most hitting categories the last two years, but he struggled mightily in the playoffs. In the 2015 playoffs he batted .214 with only one HR and only had three hits in the World Series. So, if he wants to walk, let him.