Yoenis Cespedes is a five-tool player—a center fielder—capable of doing everything and anything on a baseball field. Despite not arriving in the National League until August 1, the 30-year-old outfielder will appear on MVP ballots once the votes are ultimately announced. The owner of a legendary September where he hit .301/.342/.689 with nine home runs, 21 RBI, had 19 extra-base hits and carried the New York Mets to their first postseason berth since the 2006 campaign, Cespedes will likely now be in search of his fifth Major League Baseball team in as many seasons.
Always viewed as a rental to a Mets front office that knew exactly who it had just acquired, there were several reasons that Cespedes was not the first, second or even third choice when it came time to make a deal. After the very public construction and then destruction of the now famous Wilmer Flores (and Zack Wheeler) for Carlos Gomez trade, General Manager Sandy Alderson got back to work. The Mets were talking to Cincinnati about Jay Bruce, but the Reds ultimately decided not to deal. San Diego was willing to move Justin Upton so long as the Mets would hand over a star in the making in 22-year-old Michael Conforto, and in related news, I’m also willing to win the lottery if someone buys me a winning scratch ticket. That conversation ended quickly.
That meant the Mets turned to Cespedes, an imperfect piece, as Alderson tried to complete his puzzle. Acquired for a very reasonable price considering the Mets dealt from a position of strength in sending out two minor league pitchers, it was cost-effective to roll the dice on Cespedes’ power potential in a lineup that sorely needed his big bat.
His arrival ignited a fire that hadn’t burned within Mets fans since Jose Reyes was pouring gasoline between bases, and Cespedes injected the team with exactly what it needed: Confidence. The concerns about Cespedes’ plate discipline and approach were masked by his impressive light tower power, and his performance gave a previously lifeless team a defined and unique swagger. The Mets were set aflame, and a magical ride to the World Series unfolded in unbelievable fashion.
Many are wondering why the Mets wouldn’t want to keep Cespedes in the fold. With a clear need for what he brings to the table, a gaping hole in the outfield without him and a lineup that needs additional help with him in there, wouldn’t—and shouldn’t—New York do everything it possibly could to retain a player the club knew could perform under the city’s bright lights?
It’s as much about Cespedes as it is the team’s current roster construction.
Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia are arbitration eligible for the first time, and both can expect a seriously hefty raise that will make each a multi-millionaire. Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, and Addison Reed are all eligible for arbitration, as well. David Wright, whose spinal stenosis still looms largely over the franchise, is slated to earn nearly $100 million over the next five years. Michael Cuddyer, who flopped worse than a fish out of water in his first year with the Mets, will return at a $12.5 million salary in 2016. Daniel Murphy is expected to walk in free agency, and New York is without an internal replacement for the second base position.
Paying an approximate $50 million combined to Wright, Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson for the 2016 season alone, it’s difficult to advocate for the investment in Cespedes at what it’ll likely cost to keep him. His approach at the plate is not consistent with what the organization preaches, his career on-base percentage of .319 is embarrassingly low for a player of his caliber and never had the Cuban slugger blasted more than 26 home runs in a single season prior to his 2015 “breakout.” The Mets are a team that has made bad investments both on and off the field, and with Cespedes now on the wrong side of 30 and someone whose game does not project to age favorably, now is not the time for the organization—especially with so many internal salary raises brewing—to go from the low-stakes tables to the high roller’s room.
The Mets might finally be escaping Bernie Madoff’s shadow, but New York still can’t afford this move.