Cespedes: Not Worth It? Are There Alternatives?

Michael Cuddyer‘s sudden retirement was certainly an unexpected development. While it remains to be seen exactly how much money the Mets will be paying him to not play in 2016, it did nevertheless begin rampant speculation among Mets fans (including some in my own household) that the door for re-signing Yoenis Cespedes has suddenly swung open.  The silence from the Mets front office since Cuddyer’s announcement have conjured up memories of off-seasons past, where the Mets sat on the sidelines, signing a reclamation project or two off of the scrap heap while their major league brethren in markets a fraction of the size of theirs walked off with the shiny prizes.

We here at Mets Today were certainly unsparing in our criticism of the Wilpons and Sandy Alderson during this nearly half-decade stretch and while  we admit to a twinge or two of here-we-go-again-itis, we do feel it is very important to take a step back and try to see the bigger picture.

Even using baseball money, which has reached ridiculous proportions, is Cespedes–as great as he was for August and the first half of September, worth a 5 or 6 year, nine-figure deal?  One  of the more interesting developments in baseball this past decade or so has been the arrival of advanced stats and their insertion into discussions such as this one.  One of my favorite “new” metrics is WAR or Wins Above Replacement, a stat I freely admit to not fully understanding, but do trust enough to rely on–oh boy, I just sounded like a political partisan!

Lets start with offensive WAR: in 2015 Cespedes ranked 66th in majors in that category with 2.85 Offensive WAR, this puts him somewhere between solid and good. We will use some Capwell logic/math and combine several articles on the topic and round up the cost per win in WAR @ $7M (told you this was stupid money). So, using WAR only, Cespedes is worth $21M per year. The Mets leader in O-WAR last year was Curtis Granderson with a 3.9 O-WAR, good for 34th in the majors in that category. So at “only” $15M last year, the Mets actually got a bargain in Curtis.

What WAR doesn’t show is just how hot Cespedes got during a key stretch of the season and that he did it in baseball’s biggest market. He hit nearly as many homeruns (17) in just over half the amount of games (57) for the Mets last year as he did for the Tigers (18 and 102 respectively).   I think it is those homers, coupled with a couple of great throws, that most Met fans associate Cespedes with. Here’s an interesting  stat: he didn’t hit a regular season home run after September 14. Was he hurt, or did he just run out of gas?

Emotions aside, is this $21M per year really a prudent use of resources? In the words of Casey Stengel, growing old isn’t so bad, once you consider the alternative. From a team’s perspective however, growing old is pretty bad, especially when you are paying someone for something they did when they where younger. Call this an over-simplification if you must, but most baseball players see a decline in their performance as they age. Did this decline already begin with Cespedes? And, even if he works hard to re-invent himself the way Granderson did, is the money he wants per year (probably until 2022) worth it? I’d have a hard time reconciling myself to that deal, if the Mets make it.

Bottom line: at three years plus an option at $21M per Cespedes might be worth the risk. Unfortunately, some stupid team will bite on his much larger demands. It might take a while, but we eventually will all be glad it wasn’t the Mets.

So, where should the Mets turn next?

Denard Span‘s name has been floated frequently. I like the idea, at least on the surface. But I think that Span, if proven healthy next month, will probably command a contract that the Mets are unwilling to give. Remember, this is the guy who lead the NL in hits just two years ago. Returning to the relative realm of baseball salaries again, Span has been underpaid for his entire career and going on age 32, he probably sees this as his last chance to cash in. I highly doubt he will take less money to come here and platoon with Juan Lagares. If he does come here, then it probably means his hip isn’t fully healed. That presents a whole other set of problems for the Mets.

Here’s a name: Alejandro de Aza. Don’t laugh. He has slashed 274/338/418 vs. right-handed pitchers for his career. Platoon him with Lagares (279/325/427 vs. lefties) and the Mets are solid in center. Not the automatic outs that killed the Mets for the first half of 2015, they can be batted lower in the order and can be switched out late in games as the Mets get into the opponent’s bullpen. He is slightly younger than Span and would, I suspect, take a short-term deal to extend his career.

If money where no object, I would tout the Mets signing Cespedes and giving contracts to Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Jeurys Familia. But since money is an object, they can’t carry all four and give raises to other key components. One or two mainstays of the 2015 will likely need to be sacrificed to the God of Sustained Success. Cespedes is the first to go.

Unfortunately, he won’t be the last.




A Mets fan since 1971, Dan spent many summer nights of his childhood watching the Mets on WOR Channel Nine, which his Allentown, PA cable company carried. Dan was present at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and the Todd Pratt Walkoff Game in 1999. He is also the proud owner of two Shea Stadium seats. Professionally, Dan is a Marketing Manager in the Bulk Materials Handling industry. He lives in Bethlehem PA with his wife and son, neither of whom fully get his obsession with the Mets.
  1. DaveSchneck December 21, 2015 at 10:19 pm
    Cespedes is one of the toughest players to value that I have seen (to the extent that I can value players as pretend GM). Approach, streakiness, raw athleticism, age?, and commitment all muddy the waters. Add to that the extreme contract the Heyward got (overpay in my book) a Cespedes back with the Mets, money or not, really doesn’t fit.

    A healthy Span would be a great fit, but that hip is worrisome no matter how he looks in January. De Aza is a nice player, a good fit with Lagares, and a likely signing. It does, however, conjure up the ghost of recent past hot stoves. I can accept it if they go get a lockdown arm in the 8th. I’m not sure who that is or how they acquire that arm, but Clippard scares me and retreads are just not acceptable for a prior year finalist with a stud staff and okay offense.

    So, I think the two remaining moves needs to be judged in combination, and these will make or break the offseason.

    • argonbunnies December 25, 2015 at 3:12 am
      I don’t consider Heyward a great player, and by historical standards, $184M for him is crazy. I think we need to throw historical standards out the window, though. The game is ridiculously flush with cash, and the days when $200M for a competent player seems like a bargain are fast approaching. They’ll be here long before Heyward’s contract ends — and he’ll be barely 34 then, with much better odds to still be decent than Greinke or all the other guys signing through 37+.

      The only reason this would have been a bad signing for the Mets is that the Wilpons’ poor business dealings have put them in a position where they don’t reinvest that MLB money back into the team and thus must bargain-hunt.

  2. Vilos December 22, 2015 at 7:54 am
    Cespedes is an issue. No doubt about it. The front office must be back and forth with his pros and cons, and not just the Mets but most teams of the league.

    So to begin with, I ask myself, can one fluke month and a half of spectacular baseball catapult a player into this status?

    I have read many articles that say, take away aug-sep 2015, and his Numbers show a good player but not a 20 mm a year one.

    Or the question about him when considering that he has changed teams 4 times in two years.

    Or worst of all, when people question his play in the playoffs.

    Then when it gets to mets world, half the fans think the Mets cant pay that amount and they prefer to spend it some where else.

    All valid points, but just as in the Reyes contract, the Mets should bring him back.

    With Céspedes, the Mets become a better team. How many times have we read that Nats were not going awAy, that they still have the talent and youth to compete. Or what do we make of the Cubs and Cards, or the west coast teams. Well, how will it feel if the Mets don’t get Cespedes and they come up short to the Nats, or Cubs?

    Now, lets be honest. If it werent for the owners finance issues, would we have this conversación? How is it that the Giants go after all players that they need? The answer is selling tickets, and selling tickets is about winning. Are the Mets sold out for 2016? They sure would get close with Cespedes.
    One of the more interesting things proclaimed by Alderson was he wanted perpetual success, or some thing like that. Watching what he has done over the years has been fun. He has done his Job and he has put himself in a position to become a winner. A team that without Cespedes will compete and maybe go all the way. But it will only last a couple of years, until the ffour become free agents. So, is this his idea of perpetual?
    I wonder how much does a Céspedes salary affect the decelopment of players. I don’t recall reading about developement budgets. Do the cards have a larger butget than the rest of baseball? If so, that might or could tilt the balance.
    So does perpetual winning include dealing prospects every year for missing pieces?
    Everyone expects the Mets yo pasa on Yo. I’ll continúe to have fun watching how they go about their business, but lets be honest, the answer to becoming a powerhouse is on their front step for the taking.

  3. Dan Capwell December 22, 2015 at 9:25 am
    I am starting to think they should just sign Span and insert him in the leadoff spot. My batting order would be:
    1. Span
    2. Walker
    4. Wright
    5. Conforto
    6. TdA
    7. Duda
    8. A-Cab

    That’s a solid if unspectacular lineup. It puts the best base runners/OBP guys in the first three spots and then goes Right-Left from the middle to the end. Lacking a true cleanup hitter, they would need to rely more on getting guys on and then moving them over. They could end up switching Duda and Conforto or realigning the 2/3/4 spots, but on paper at least, this looks OK. By signing Raburn, they also have a good bench.

    It’s all going to be about the pitching anyway.

  4. Dan Capwell December 22, 2015 at 12:52 pm
    I called it.
  5. Blaiseda December 23, 2015 at 10:19 am
    Great article. Sound reasoning and now that they’ve pulled the trigger on De Aza it was profetic.

    Will be tuning into this blog more often

  6. Dan Capwell December 23, 2015 at 11:16 am
    Happy Anniversary of the 1999 Mike Hampton trade everyone. It’s the gift that keeps giving, we got David Wright as compensation when Mike went to Colorado.

    Something to ponder as you down your eggnogs this week–the Mets still have an opening on their 25-man roster. They have 8 starters and 4 benchwarmers (Tejada, Flores, Plawecki and de Aza). They have their 5 rotation guys and 7 men in the pen, including (we hope) another late-inning acquisition.

    That’s 24. Could they be waiting in the weeds to pounce later in the winter if one of the big bats is still unsigned and willing to take a one-year “show me” deal with the defending NL Champs?

    • DaveSchneck December 23, 2015 at 9:48 pm
      Good call on de Aza but I’m not holing my breath on a big bat acquisition. I expect the Nats to land one of those bats. I want to see a big 8th inning arm added, even if it is a belated Christmas gift.
      • argonbunnies December 25, 2015 at 3:16 am
        Is there anyone left out there who we’d want in the 8th inning? Relievers who excel year after year are rare, and I think they’ve all been scooped up. Am I forgetting anyone?

        The Mets have been linked to Matt Albers, a guy who’s yet to post a league-average K rate in any season.

        My target at this point would be Joe Blanton. Finesse starters often make good relievers, and occasionally they make spectacular ones (Eck, Rivera, Uehara). I am guessing his excellent 2015 was not a fluke. Still, not exactly a lockdown 8th inning guy we need to save the budget for.

  7. argonbunnies December 25, 2015 at 3:04 am
    Great article, Dan! Glad to have you keeping things rolling here. Also, nice job with the De Aza prediction. I’m not sure that De Aza is an overall better player than Nieuwenhuis, but he does have a much higher offensive floor, and that kind of certainty is a good fit for a team in the “win now” mode the Mets are in.

    As for Sandy’s goals of perpetual competition, you don’t do that by:
    – trading away Fulmer, Meisner, Cessa and Gant for a playoff push AND
    – not signing any of the few young elite players to hit the market in recent years (this year that was Heyward) AND
    – failing to extend your own young guys for below-market value when they’re still young and craving security (Lagares was the only exception, and then he instantly regressed) — if Alderson wants to build the next Rays, he needs to sign Conforto for 6-8 years before the season starts

    It seems to me like the Mets are simply in win-now mode. In that context, I’d say it’s worth taking on a contract that’ll look bad in three years for a chance at a title in the next two. None of the FA options right now are ideal, but overpaying Heyward or Cespedes or Chris Davis is better than wasting a prime title shot due to cheapness.

    • DanB December 25, 2015 at 12:31 pm
      Technically, the Mets are not cheap. They are poor. Their debt load eats away at their revenue. They reportedly spend more on interest on their loans each year then they do on salary. Plus for the next two years they have Madolf payments. Considering they made it to the World Series spending $100 million, I don’t see why they will spend more now.
      • DaveSchneck December 26, 2015 at 12:31 pm
        I do not agree with you on the Wilpons. These are extremely wealthy people. From the MLB ownership point of view, they were “poor”, temporarily, givethe perfect storm of the Madoff debacle, the great recession, and the Mets’ poor on the field performance. However, that crisis has essentially passes. Yes, they have Madoff payment due, and yes, they have debt. But over that time span the appreciation of franchise value and TV rights, combined with restructuring of debt at very low rare, and increased revenues from on the field performance, has provided plenty of funds to climb out of the bottom 10 in payroll. I see their spending as a choice.
      • argonbunnies December 26, 2015 at 3:43 pm
        I’m with Dave. Billionaires don’t move money around like middle class people. It’s hopeless for us to assess what they can and can’t do — they face pressures and obligations, sure, but they have a LOT of options.

        If you look at the sums being thrown around, an extra $30 mil on payroll (to get into the territory of a lot of mid-sized market contenders) is a tiny drop in the bucket.

        • DanB December 26, 2015 at 4:32 pm
          Ironically, the extra $30 million you mention is the amount the Wilpons have to spend to pay for Madolf this year. Just because the Wilpons were once financial genuises, doesn’t mean they continue to make good decisions. Here is the latest from Howard Megdal at Vocativ:

          “The Mets have managed to get by annually by diverting revenue from their baseball and television operation into the financing of debt. Prior to the refinancing of the past two years, the annual interest on these two loans plus debt balloon payments of more than $43 million have exceeded team payroll itself.

          The refinancing of the two loans has extended their due dates out five years, so this arrangement is set to continue for a long time to come. And the debt balloon payments run until December 2045, when currently youthful pitching ace Steven Matz will be 54 years old.”

          The Mets financial problems appear to be as real today as they were three years ago. Sorry, but that is what I have been reading.

        • DaveSchneck December 27, 2015 at 12:31 am
          Be careful with using Mr. Megdal’s statements regarding the Wilpons and the Mets. While I do share his disdain for the Met ownership, he has long ago lost any objectivity. The $43 million annual obligation Mr. Megdal describes as “debt balloon payments” are actually an arrangement with NYC for payment in lieu of taxes and easilt covered by revenues specific to the stadium, even in the lowest attendance years. Facts which Mr. Megdal has elected to omit from his reporting.
          And, having $800 million in loans for two entities, the team and SNY, worth in excess of $2 billion, is actually low debt at relatively low interest rates. When those loans come due, banks again will line up willingly for Met business. Lastly, drawing profits out of one business segment (baseball operations) to pay off debt elsewhere is not a Ponzi scheme, it is a basic business practice.

          The Wilpons will increase payroll in 2016, which is consistent with their prior statement. What they won’t do is increase the payroll as much as most of us, me included, want. We all will have to live with that one way or another.

        • argonbunnies December 27, 2015 at 1:12 am
          Dan, thanks for the info. I appreciate hearing what Howard’s reporting, but I hesitate to draw any particular conclusions from it. “The annual interest on these two loans plus debt balloon payments . . . have exceeded team payroll itself” tells us that the Wilpons have huge expenses, but it doesn’t tell us anything about their revenue or liquidity. It’s hard for me to believe that anyone who truly did not have a dime beyond [whatever payroll the Mets end up at] to improve the team with, would still be solvent in the context of these billion-dollar holdings/loans/etc.

          Every team in MLB is run by businessmen who want to make money rather than lose it, and I’m not expecting the Wilpons to suddenly jump outside that schema and do whatever the fans want. Still, it is disappointing that an opportunity to build the Mets brand and rake in playoff revenue by fielding an elite team (rather than just a pretty good one) isn’t being pursued more aggressively, especially given the 6 non-competitive years which preceded it.

          If the Mets really are too broke to do anything but cut costs, how did we wind up with Granderson and Cuddyer and Colon and Frank Francisco and every other arguable overpay of the last few years? Is the commissioner’s office putting pressure on the Wilpons behind the scenes? I doubt it. I think the Wilpons have Mets payroll decisions to make; their finances may be lousy, but not lousy enough to tie or force their hands.

          It would not surprise me at all if the Wilpons’ business calculus says that now is the time to take profits from the Mets and use them to pay off debts. But that’s different than being “broke” or “poor”.

  8. DanB December 27, 2015 at 10:41 pm
    I admit I was being lazy when I quoted Megdal. I knew I had read other bad reports about the Met finances but I couldn’t remember which blogs they were. Besides, more importantly, if you don’t believe Megdal, which I can understand, you have to admit there are a lot of negative stories still being told about the Mets finances but I have not read one story say the Mets are close to recovery. Yes, they have created equity in the Mets and SNY, but do they generate enough revenue to cover their nut? You can be rich in equity but still struggle to pay down debts if you do not generate enough revenue to cover your costs. It makes you both rich and poor at the same time.

    However, ultimately it is a bunch of blog readers guessing. We don’t know for sure their status. However, the two more important issues, as AB has pointed out, is that no matter if the Mets have or do not have money, they have an once in a generation opportunity to spend money to create a dominant team and for what ever reason, they appear to be choicing not to spend the money. In addition, what little money they are spending, seems to be spent in odd ways. For example, I think Colon could be a solid contributor as a fifth starter/bullpen relief. However, I wonder if they overpaid for him at $7 million. And if that is his true market value, I could see signing him if their budget was around $140 million. But is that the best place to spend $7 million when your budget is $110 million? The same can be said for Chris Young, Francisco, et al… Every team makes free agent mistakes, but the Mets don’t seem to overpay for good players but pay less while still overpaying for marginal players. I find their decission making confusing.

    • DaveSchneck December 31, 2015 at 8:20 pm
      I certainly wasn’t implying laziness on your behalf. Most of what Megdal reports is likely accurate, but you are correct in that we bloggers, and even Megdal, are guessing without full access. A, you are dead on in that it doesn’t matter…they spend what they spend regardless of the reason.

      A happy and healthy new year to you and the rest here..even the elusive Mr. J himself.

      • DanB January 3, 2016 at 5:35 pm
        I didn’t think you were saying I was being lazy! I agreeing with you that Megdal reports sound, at times, like a personal attack rather than neutral reporting.

        Hey Joe, may I be as bold as to sugest a topic for a new column? I think the team that comes up with a response to defensive shifts first will have a huge advantage over the rest of the league. Murphy’s steal of third during the playoffs comes to mind. We have all said that learning to bunt against the shift would force teams not to shift. I would love to see “bunt and steal” where someone routinely takes third from first on a bunt against the shift. Any other ideas? Of course convincing pull hitters to bunt every once in a while will be difficult, but if you could show how it would force other teams not to shift, hence making it easier to pull, I think they will come around to it. I could definately see one team taking the lead on this and I hope it is the Mets. Could be exciting!

        • argonbunnies January 7, 2016 at 5:50 am
          Very cool thoughts. Here’s a play I’ve always wondered why no one does:

          Runner on 2nd. Runner breaks for 3rd. Batter bunts toward 3rd.

          No third baseman is used to this play. Charge the bunt and let the runner steal unopposed? Hold the bag and leave the pitcher as the only line of defense against a bunt single?

          With a RH pitcher who falls off the mound toward first, this is pretty much an automatic first-and-third situation for any bunter who can make contact in fair territory to the 3B side. So why have I NEVER seen it done?!

          Even if the batter misses the bunt, there’s a good chance the third baseman isn’t in position to take the throw, and the runner steals the base standing up! Or if the catcher throws through, maybe that’s a run!

          Man, if I were a manager, my spring training camps would be UNIQUE.