Yoenis Cespedes was always the first and best choice for the New York Mets this winter. In the event that Cespedes departed as a free agent, they had contingency plans on their roster (Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto and Juan Lagares), free agent options (Jose Bautista), and trade targets (J.D. Martinez, Adam Eaton or Andrew McCutchen) to mitigate his loss. However, Cespedes had the multiple benefits of proving he could play in New York; that he was willing to be reasonable in his demands rather than chase every last dollar on the open market; and he wanted to be with the Mets. With those factors, it’s no surprise that Cespedes and the Mets agreed to a four-year deal for $110 million.
Now that they’ve retained Cespedes, the Mets can address other issues. Let’s take a look.
Address the outfield glut
They certainly don’t need five outfielders and the other four are movable. Lagares is one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball. Granderson hits with power, gets on base and has one year remaining on his deal. Bruce hits home runs, drives in runs and is also on the final year of his deal. Conforto is a well-regarded prospect who would bring back the biggest return were the Mets to deal him.
There is an argument to trade all of the above, but the likeliest candidate to be moved is Bruce. He was traded to the Mets as a contingency plan if Cespedes had left, but struggled mightily until a late September resurgence. He had reportedly asked his former team, the Cincinnati Reds, not to trade him to New York. His resistance showed as he looked miserable. There are players, like Cespedes, who are New York-types. Then there are players, like Bruce, who are not not. Even with other teams aware that the Mets want to move him and he wants to leave, he has value. They can clear his salary while getting bullpen help, a backup catcher and/or a prospect. Worst case, they can recoup the two minor leaguers they gave up – Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell – to acquire him.
Get bullpen help
Lefty reliever Jerry Blevins is a free agent and the Mets would like to retain him, but the contract that Brett Cecil received from the St. Louis Cardinals ($30.5 million over four years) raised the bar for lefties. It’s difficult to envision Blevins approaching those numbers, but no one could have predicted the Cardinals would go so over the top for Cecil. As good as Blevins was for the Mets, he’s not a priority. Should he leave, they’ll need a lefty to go along with Josh Smoker and Josh Edgin.
Along with another lefty reliever, they have to take into account the likelihood that Jeurys Familia will be suspended and miss a period of time. Judging by the monthlong suspension given to Aroldis Chapman to start the 2016 season, expecting to be without Familia for a month is probably erring on the side of caution. Addison Reed can function as the closer in the interim, but even if Familia were available, they’d still need at least one more righty reliever.
Find a backup catcher who can play half the time if necessary
What do the Mets have in Travis d’Arnaud? Is he the solid handler of pitchers and power bat he was for the second half of 2015? Or is he the injury-prone, inconsistent slap hitter with throwing woes?
The Mets still believe in d’Arnaud in large part because they don’t have many alternatives. Kevin Plawecki has not hit in his opportunities; they’re not retaining Rene Rivera; and there’s not much catching help out there which explains Jason Castro getting $24.5 million over three years from the Minnesota Twins.
The club hired Glenn Sherlock to be the catching coach as well as the third base coach with an eye on him helping d’Arnaud and Plawecki. Coaching changes are only viewed as a positive if they produce results. This year is d’Arnaud’s last chance and the Mets have to get a viable, veteran backup who can play semi-regularly like Miguel Montero.
Think about locking up the starting pitchers with contract extensions
Among the five young starters on the Mets roster, the one who will presumably be the most agreeable to a contract extension to buy out his arbitration years and a couple of years of free agency is Jacob deGrom. He’s the one who’s proven at the big league level and is years away from long-term security via free agency after 2020.
The swaggering Noah Syndergaard will want to be paid handsomely if he’s signing an extension. With his attitude, he won’t fear playing out his first six years and then looking for the big money as a free agent after 2021.
Steven Matz is too injury prone to risk giving an extension.
Zack Wheeler hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014.
Then there’s Matt Harvey.
Of all the Mets’ starters, Harvey has been mentioned as the one most likely to be traded or simply wrung out as much as possible and allowed to leave and be someone else’s super-expensive headache when he hits free agency after 2018.
That said, with his injuries and still massive talent, perhaps there’s a common ground between the sides to sign a contract for the first two or three years of his free agency. With Harvey, the whispered concerns about Cespedes – that he might grow complacent, lazy and fat once he’s paid – are more accurate worries of the outcome if Harvey has a guaranteed $80 million-plus payday. Still, with the fright that he undoubtedly felt with the numbness in his hand that led to surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, he could decide to forego free agency for a little security.