Although Christmas falls every year on December 25, it came early this year to New York Mets fans with the news that Yoenis Cespedes is returning next year, thanks to a 4-year, $110 million contract. The priority for the New York Mets offseason plans is taken care of prior to the Winter Meetings.
What does Cespedes’ signing mean for the Mets? Obviously, re-signing Cespedes gives the Mets a legitimate power threat in the middle of the lineup. Since coming over from Detroit in 2015, Cespedes has played in 189 games posting a line of .282/.348/.554 while hitting 48 Home Runs and driving in 130 Runs. Those numbers would have been much higher, had he not played injured for pretty much the whole month of July before going on the Disabled List for 2 weeks in August last season. His .280 Batting Average last year tied him with Asdrubal Cabrera for the team lead, and his 31 Home Runs were 1 better than Curtis Granderson for the most by a Met last year.
What does the mean for the remainder of the off-season? With the signing of Cespedes, and Neil Walker accepting his $17 million qualifying offer, this accounts for approximately $49 million of the 2017 payroll. I do not see the Mets making any huge free agent signings, but will go about addressing their other needs via the trade route.
What do the Mets need? I think most fans, and the team, agree that an upgrade at Catcher would be a good place to start. Travis D'Arnaud has not panned out as the Catcher they had hoped he would be when he was acquired from Toronto. Kevin Plawecki seems to be just a “4A” level player, and the best defensive Catcher last season, Rene Rivera has yet to be offered a contract heading into Friday’s deadline for Arbitration-eligible players.
First Base is another position in need of an upgrade. When healthy, Lucas Duda can produce some power, but he is also known to be a streaky hitter at times. It does not appear that James Loney is not going to be re-signed after being a serviceable replacement for Duda last season. Kelly Johnson is once again a free agent, and Eric Campbell has left to play in Japan. Had the Mets not signed Cespedes, a power hitting First Baseman would have been the next likely target. It has been rumored that Michael Conforto may be getting some workouts at First during Spring Training.
Bullpen help is always needed, especially middle relief. I think finding a good middle reliever is like finding a kicker in the NFL, they are a dime a dozen, and you never know who will have the magic that year that will help your team.
The outfield is still crowded. With the signing, Cespedes is joined in the outfield by Jay Bruce, Michael Conforto, Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares, and Brandon Nimmo. Alejandro De Aza, last years “Plan B” for Cespedes is a Free Agent, and I don’t see him returning. Out of the six remaining outfielders, you would probably want five on the roster. Cespedes will be primarily the Left Fielder. Conforto can play both Left and Right. Granderson and Lagares are primarily Center Fielders, with Granderson also able to play Right.
Bruce is “Most Likely to be Traded” from here on. He is due to make $13 million in the last year of his contract in 2017. He did not perform as well as expected after coming over from Cincinnati, but I think he still has value to a team looking for Left-handed power and just 29 years old. Latest rumors have Toronto interested in trading for Bruce, with Russell Martin being a potential return. Freeing up Bruce’s salary may open the Mets to possibly signing a mid-level free agent.
Are the Mets contenders in 2017? As currently constructed, the Mets are contenders, if not favorites to win the National League East. I compare the 2017 Mets to the Washington Nationals. In 2014, the Nationals won the Division. Injuries in 2015 kept them out of the playoffs, only to return to the top in 2016. The Mets in 2016 also faced the same injury situation, but were able to scrape together a Wild Card spot having lost every one of their Starting Pitchers, except for Bartolo Colon, for some periods of time during the season.
If healthy, the Mets should be able to re-capture the Division Title. I still believe that the Chicago Cubs are the team to beat for the Pennant. In order for the Mets to overtake the Cubs, they will need to fill their lineup with hitters than can hit for average as well as providing at least moderate power. If hitters above Cespedes in the lineup can get on base with regularity, Cespedes, along with Bruce, Granderson and Duda (whoever is not traded away), will be able to drive in runs consistently. Last year’s team lived and died by the Home Run. More ‘small ball’ will be need to be able to pick up the production in the event that the power goes out.