As Rosenthal writes, “The Mets should have the money. They have spent a combined $35.5 million on four free agents this offseason — less than the Marlins, less than the Rockies, less than the Athletics — and made a trade for second baseman Neil Walker that was essentially cash-neutral. Their payroll, including pending arbitration cases, does not figure to increase much beyond where it was at the end of last season — about $110 million.”
This is the root of the anger of Mets fans toward ownership, an issue only somewhat assuaged by last season’s World Series appearance: When theMarlins are outspending you, the bitterness toward the Wilpons only increases. And one winning season hasn’t yet erased the memories of six consecutive losing seasons.
The bigger question is whether Cespedes is a good fit. There are two issues here with the Rosenthal scenario:
1. Can Cespedes play center field?
2. What if he doesn’t opt out and you’re stuck with him for all five years?
Cespedes will have to play center field. Conforto looked so good in his 56 games as a rookie, hitting .270/.335/.506 just a year after getting drafted out of Oregon State, that you have to assume the Mets want him to play every day. He’s not going to play center if Cespedes returns, and while there’s a scenario where you could essentially have a Conforto/Lagares platoon — Lagares has hit .279/.325/.427 against left-handers in his career — that still leaves Cespedes starting more than half the time in center.
Cespedes has started 104 games in his career in center, most of those coming in his first season with the A’s in 2012 and last season with the Mets. Baseball Info Solutions measures him as a poor center fielder: minus-17 Defensive Runs Saved in his time there. That’s 17 runs below average. I think Mets fans would agree that Cespedes can sort of fake center field, but he’s not a guy you really want out there for 150 games.
I’ve heard people point to the Mets’ pitching staff as a reason you can sort of punt a little on defense. Well, the Mets were only sixth in the National League in strikeouts last year, with 69 more K’s than the average NL team. Maybe the staff will improve in that regard in 2016, but in 2015 they weren’t anything special in the strikeout department. We also saw what happened with bad defense in the World Series, when Cespedes dropped that fly ball in Game 1 and Daniel Murphy’s error in Game 4 helped a Kansas City comeback.
That said, you can work to minimize Cespedes’ time in center field: Maybe he starts 90 games in center, 40 in left, 15 in right and five at DH. That gives him 150 games, you can rest Granderson a little more often than last season and bench Conforto against the tough left-handers.
The other issue may be the more important one. I’m not exactly sure why giving Cespedes an opt-out clause would make him more motivated: After all, he would have a guaranteed $120 million coming his way. Then there’s this: In 2014, he posted a .301 OBP; in 2013, he posted a .294 OBP. According to Baseball-Reference, he created one more run than an average MLB hitter in 2013 and seven more than average in 2014. He was great in 2015 when he was plus-30, but the fear is he regresses to being a .300 OBP guy, and that’s not a $120 million player.
Mark Simon wrote the other day about the Mets’ projected win total at FanGraphs. Adding Cespedes certainly improves the team’s depth, helping hedge against the 35-year-old Granderson falling off or Lagares performing more like he did in 2015 and less like he did in 2014. A contract with deferred money certainly would be more palatable for the Wilpons.
That gets us to the bottom line: Are the Mets a big-market team?