With the off season now here, it’s time for Sandy Alderson to get to work. We’ll be moving around the diamond to see what challenges the Mets face for 2017, and see what we could do to help fix them, or perhaps mess them up even more. Look, we don’t get paid for this, so Sandy should listen to us at his own risk.
There are always a group of fans who like to approach the offseason like a businessman. About getting everybody we want at management’s price. That would be great if they had a stake in the savings, but they don’t. And I never understood that line of thinking. I mean, would you rather come to the ballpark and see good players, or come and see second rate replacements but comfort yourself in the knowledge that your favorite team’s owner has extra money to donate to his political campaign of choice. Executive of the Year doesn’t go to the owner whose net profits are the best. Jeffrey Loria would have a few in his back pocket if that was the case. Executives of the Year win.
It is of my … and most everyone else’s opinion … that Yoenis Cespedes is the best way to help the team win. He’s not perfect. No ballplayer or human is. But to let him walk after he officially opted out, and replace him with anybody else or any group of players is sacrificing a player who can do multiple things to help a team win. He hits, he has a cannon for an arm, he has enough speed to go from first to third on a single, and he can cover ground in the outfield. And in 2016, he improved his on base percentage to an almost career best (and career best since his rookie season) .354 by grinding through longer at bats and cutting down his swing when a single was just as good as a home run.
Everything else is just an excuse for a talking point. Cars, horses, golf, the occasional bad judgement on the basepaths, the low batting average for the Mets in the postseason which was affected either by lingering injury or by Madison Bumgarner … if we let that keep us from wanting a premier talent to be on our side, then we’re completely misguided. And that’s why my preferred plan is to sit Cespedes down and say “look, you want years as much as dollars so here’s what we’re willing to do: 5 years, $125 million.” Laying it out there may not be the greatest decision from a negotiation standpoint. But it can’t be simply about every last dollar. The Mets got away with it last season because the market wasn’t strong enough to get Cespedes what he wanted, and because he truly loved playing in New York with the Mets. Wonderful. But dilly-dallying around and using the $1 Price is Right strategy is only going to show Cespedes that you’re trying to take advantage of his love for New York. And if that’s what he senses, then I’ll bet that contract that he walks. The San Francisco Giants have Gorkys Hernandez at the top of the left field depth chart. I’m sure the Giants would want to spend some money to make the rest of the offense better and still be able to afford a closer on top of that. The Toronto Blue Jays might have some holes in the lineup after Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista leave. And although I don’t think they would do it, do you want to risk the Yankees saying “we’ll figure it out later” and sign Cespedes while trying to trade Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury? Then what?
It’s the “then what” that’s frightening. But it isn’t impossible to maneuver. At worst, you’d have Michael Conforto in left, Curtis Granderson in center, and Jay Bruce in right with Juan Lagares as a fourth outfielder. The problem is that this would have been okay last off season. But Conforto and Granderson have turned from ! to ?, and who knows if Lagares is going to have a full season of health? And don’t get me started on the one-dimensional Bruce, who should never be mistaken for a suitable replacement for Cespedes’ production (and yet amazingly, some believe this.) That’s why Dexter Fowler wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world to man center field. He got a 3 year $33 million deal (reportedly) to join the Orioles before changing course and going back to the Cubs for a year. That plus a little sweetener could get Fowler to try to end a less romantic curse this time. And the good news is that you can still get him even if Cespedes comes back (although the people in the Mets financial offices might not see it that way.)
There is also Ian Desmond, who learned to play center field and did a halfway decent job for the Rangers, and the guy the Mets almost got instead of Cespedes: Carlos Gomez. Gomez was bustastic for Houston before being released and finding his stroke with the Rangers at the end of the year. Gomez is hoping those last few weeks will be enough to convince somebody that Houston was a bad dream. Then you delve into the Mark Trumbos of the world who are more one-dimensional players who will drag the Mets down to the depths of the division. (Imagine an outfield of Trumbo, Granderson and Bruce and try not to be afraid of all the opponent’s batted balls rolling to the wall.) Or the Mets could replace Cespedes’ offense at first base with a guy like Encarnacion who, again, is one dimensional not to mention three years older.
And there’s also Jose Bautista, who wants to be paid $30 million a year at age 36, who the Mets are taking a look at. Reminder, he’s 36.
But when it comes to the outfield there’s really only one priority the Mets should have now, and that’s to put their best foot forward to try to sign Cespedes without the negotiation games. If Cespedes can find an offer that would blow away 5/125 (and 5/130 isn’t going to do it), then bless him and let him move on without the regrets of “what if” keeping everybody up at night. The only numbers that matter are these: 110-79 with Cespedes in the lineup as a Met over the past two seasons. 67-68 when he is either injured, resting, or a Detroit Tiger. And while you may root for a bargain at every turn, it’s also about human beings. And it’s about winning. I want this team to win. And Cespedes is the most important player the Mets have that can make winning a reality.
This isn’t that hard.
I’m only going to bring up Mike Trout because somebody brought up a fictional trade which would send Michael Conforto, Steven Matz, and Amed Rosario for the future Hall of Famer, and somebody replied “too much”.
Next up we’ll look at the starting pitching, or what’s left of it after Ray Ramirez gets through with it.