Esposito: Do The Mets Still Need Cespedes?

(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)

Do the Mets still need Cespedes?

The short answer is, yes.

Will the Mets re-sign Cespedes?

The short answer is, no.

And that is disheartening to Mets fans, this one included.

The Mets appear set for 2016, but then again, we’re still about six weeks from pitchers and catchers reporting, so we’re really not closing the door on anything.

The 2016 lineup has been buffeted by the additions of a new middle infield with Neil Walker on second and Asdrubal Cabrera at short. The rest of the lineup will look familiar – Granderson, Wright, Duda, and d’Arnaud. You know their positions. Lagares is slated to regain his hold on center, and Conforto gets his shot at being the everyday leftfielder, replacing the retired Michael Cuddyer.

But there is concern in this corner that one piece is missing. The piece to the puzzle that made last season’s run to the World Series complete. The piece that made opposing pitchers rethink their pitch combinations. The piece that made opposing managers constantly scan the lineup cards on the dugout wall – when is No. 52 due up next? The piece that made those skippers wonder if they should get at least one or two righthanded relievers ready in the late innings.

That piece is, of course, Yoenis Cespedes, and it just seems that no matter how many .260-15-70 batters you accumulate, the strength of having a .290-35-105 in the lineup makes a big difference. Simply compare the Mets offense in July versus August, when they went from the lower rungs to top of the NL in run production after Cespedes and the other new pieces named Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson joined the team, along with rookie Michael Conforto’s contributions.

Last July, the Mets ranked 24th in overall run production in all of baseball. In August, they were second in the majors, behind only Toronto.

Okay, all of this is a given. None of this information is breaking new ground. And in truth, if the baseballs bounce the right way, the revised lineup might prove quite productive. With “Ifs” such as…if David Wright’s back stays in one piece…if Michael Conforto turns into the Keith Hernandez-type hitter everyone projects…if Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda can again bang out 25-30 home runs, and Grandy scores another 100 runs or so from the leadoff spot…and so on.

But it might be less of an “if” to project that Cespedes will clobber 35-plus home runs, perhaps 40 or more, knock in at least 100 runs, and hit around .290, and not much of a stretch to consider .300-plus. And despite that brain-freeze in the outfield in Game 1 of the World Series, he does possess a outfielder’s Gold Glove and an absolute cannon of an arm.

So what’s the problem? Ah, the root of the problem, is, as always. money.

Would the Mets resign Cespedes if he would play for a two-year contract for say, $21 million, as Cuddyer did last year? Sure, but what is this, the 20th Century?

There are unconfirmed reports that the Cespedes camp – aka Roc Nation Sports, aka Jay Z – has been asking for a six-year deal worth $150 mil. Too much for Mets tastes? Likely. Roc Nation probably started their negotiations at an even higher number after seeing what the big pitchers were getting – $30 mil-plus per. But that market for outfielders has yet to develop.

There are unconfirmed reports the Mets did make a two-year pitch at who-knows what. David Wright still will be the highest paid Met this coming season with a $20 mil paycheck, and he’s still on board until 2020. And that’s if his spinal stenosis doesn’t retire him prematurely.

Here’s an open suggestion to Mets GM Sandy Alderson for an offer to Cespedes. Put together a five-year deal for $100 mil, maybe negotiate up to $110 or so, with a player opt-out clause at the end of three years. Back load it somewhat to keep the payroll manageable.

And here’s why.

First, Cespedes will likely opt-out after the third year, so you won’t have to worry about paying off the back end. Roc Nation will be monitoring the comps what the other big boys will be getting by then, and if we’re amazed now – whoo, boy, we’re going to be shocked into comas by then. The numbers just keep getting higher and higher. Plus, No. 52 will be on a mission to build up his signing potential in that third year. Bonus!

Next, the window for a Mets Championship may only be about three years or so, cause everyone agrees the club will not be able to afford a five-man rotation all earning some of the amazing numbers pitchers are now getting.

Can you imagine? In a few years, giving star starters – of which the Mets are loaded with – $10-$15 mil per year might be the floor, not the ceiling, let alone the $30 mil-plus that guys like a certain No. 33 must be dreaming about.

Look at what that shoulda-been-a-Met, one time Met “prospect” Scott Kazmir – long ago traded for…traded for…No, I just can’t say it!…rhymes with Zambrano…just got from the LA Dodgers, an average of $16 million per year in a three-year deal.

Bringing back Cespedes makes sense cause he “fit” the team. And the team fit him. He fit the city. Like the proverbial glove.

One hesitation might be the limiters on Conforto’s growth, a player scheduled to make about a half-mil versus someone drawing $20 mil-plus. If Conforto is again reduced to playing just against righthanders, well, that still gives him a ton of ABs, but just not everyday.

And that puts Gold Glover Juan Lagares back on the bench as the fourth or possibly fifth outfielder with Alejandro De Aza on the squad. Lagares battled minor injuries for most of the ’15 campaign, and finished a modest .259, with six homers and 41 RBIs. He did, however, look promising once more late in the season, batting .291 in August, .281 in Sept. Overall, though, in 106 games that he started in centerfield, resulted in a .254 average, with five home runs and 38 runs batted in.

Still, the original point remains how opposing pitchers will treat a lineup with Cespedes batting behind, say, Conforto, or just about anyone else. Think of the fat ones Conforto will see with No. 52 on deck. Or anyone batting ahead of 52.

So yes, this observer believes the Mets should resign Cespedes, even if it does involve a fairly big contract.

There have been rumors floated the Giants were interested in Cespedes. Then that rumor floated away. There have been reports that the White Sox, Orioles, and Tigers were interested. So you never know. there’s always some mystery team that swoops in and surprises everyone. Maybe the Cardinals will be enticed since they lost out on Jason Heyward. Maybe the Royals go get him since they let Ben Zobrist go and are about to see Alex Gordon sign elsewhere.

It’s just one man’s opinion, and maybe a lot of Mets fan’s opinions, but it sure would be nice for Mets fans to see No. 52 back in the lineup. So, com’on Jeff. Com’ on, Sandy. Give 52 a five-year with a three-year opt-out, maybe even a two-year opt-out of that’s what it takes.

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