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.