Mets’ winter forecast: Outfield revolves around Cespedes
We continue our examination of the state of the Mets’ roster by examining the outfielders.
ON THE 40
Michael Conforto (.220, 12 HR, 42 RBI) Curtis Granderson (.237, 30 HR, 59 RBI) Juan Lagares (.239, 3 HR, 9 RBI) Brandon Nimmo (.274, 1 HR, 6 RBI) Ty Kelly (.241, 1 HR, 7 RBI) Justin Ruggiano (.333, 2 HR, 7 RBI)
PENDING FREE AGENT
Yoenis Cespedes (.280, 31 HR, 86 RBI)—Opt-out clause Jay Bruce (.250, 33 HR, 99 RBI) –Team option Alejandro De Aza (.205, 6 HR, 25 RBI)
ON THE FARM (per MLB.com)
Desmond Lindsay (Class A) Wuilmer Becerra (Class A) Ricardo Cespedes (Rookie)
WHERE THEY STAND
It’s the winter of Yoenis Cespedes: Part 2.
The Mets slugger is once again expected to be one of the premier free agents on the market this year as he can opt out of the three-year contract he signed with the Mets. Cespedes has two years and $47.5 million left on his deal and should easily be able to top that in free agency.
Last off-season, the Mets were patient with Cespedes and waited out his market while the other high-profile outfielders signed with other teams. Jason Heyward, Justin Upton and Alex Gordon each received large to mega contract while Cespedes did not sign until January.
The Mets ultimately beat out the Nationals to retain Cespedes, and did so on their terms. They did not want to sign Cespedes for more than three years, and signed him to a three-year deal worth $75 million with an opt-out after the first season. The opt-out and large salary per year helped offset any concerns from Cespedes about not landing a long-term deal.
For as much as Cespedes enjoys playing in New York and the culture the team has built, business signs all point to Cespedes becoming a free agent in what will be a weaker free agent class. Some of the other premier free agents are older than Cespedes, and it’s reasonable to expect he should be in better shape to land a large contract this time around.
The Mets wanted to avoid a long-term deal last winter, but may have to ante up if they want to keep Cespedes this time around. The team is simply better when he’s in the lineup, and it appears the fans would be quite upset with management if Cespedes departs for another team. Re-signing Cespedes, even with the long-term worries, gives the Mets their best chance at a title.
Cespedes is one of two starting outfielders the Mets could lose as they have to decide whether to exercise the option in Bruce’s contract. It seems an easy call for the Mets to bring back Bruce since there is no value if they just decline it and allow him to be a free agent, but the team is going to have to be smart with its money this off-season if it pursuits Cespedes and Neil Walker.
For all of Bruce’s struggles with the Mets, he’s still capable of hitting 30 homers a season, and Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said the team acquired Bruce for both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. There is a realistic possibility the Mets may not re-sign Cespedes this off-season, and Bruce at least help mitigates a little bit the power the Mets’ lineup loses if Cespedes departs.
The Mets could always pick up Bruce’s option and then try to trade him to at least get some value if they feel their outfield is too crowded.
As it stands, the Mets are set to bring back four outfielders, and they may have to get creative with their roster if Cespedes and Bruce also return.
Curtis Granderson is in the final year of a four-year deal, and he may be tough to trade since he’s due $15 million in 2017 and turns 36 during spring training. Granderson still is a productive player, though, and is clearly a superior defender in right field than Bruce.
Conforto and Nimmo are both former first-round picks, and Conforto will look to rebound after a disappointing sophomore season. Conforto had a fantastic rookie season in 2015 that included some big hits in the postseason, but couldn’t keep up the pace this past season. The team tried sending him to the minors to help, but even his hot stretches with Class AAA Las Vegas didn’t translate to the majors. Righting him at the plate will be one of the team’s top priorities.
Nimmo showed his potential at times this past season, although there are questions about whether he’s an everyday player or a bench player. It doesn’t help him that he’s a lefty since the team already has three other lefty outfielders in Bruce, Granderson and Cespedes.
Lagares, who missed most of the season due to injury, is scheduled to make $4.5 million this upcoming season, and is clearly the team’s best defensive outfielder. Lagares is aided by the fact he’s a righty in a lefty-laden outfield, and is probably best suited as a reserve outfielder.
Among the prospects, Lindsay, the team’s first pick in 2015, has drawn rave reviews for his showing thus far in the minors. He posted a .868 OPS with Class A Brooklyn this past year.
The prediction here is the Mets re-sign Cespedes and pick up the option on Bruce, and that leaves them with some numbers crunching. They would then have six outfielders for four or five roster spots, and four of them (Granderson, Bruce, Cespedes and Conforto) deserve to start.
The Mets may have to entertain trading one of the two right fielders in Bruce and Granderson or use Nimmo as a trade chip to bolster another area of the team. Keeping Nimmo would be useful, though, as Granderson and Bruce are free agents after the upcoming season.
The ideal scenario involves Conforto getting as much playing time as possible, but the Mets may have to ride the veterans in 2017 before turning to youth in 2018. The team could try to turn either Conforto or Bruce into a first baseman to help fit more bats into the lineup.