On Saturday afternoon, Yoenis Cespedes informed the Mets that he will opt out of the remaining two years and $47.5 million on his contract—news that should have come as a surprise to no one.
There is still a chance that the Metropolitans look to bring back their slugging outfielder on a long-term deal, as the team would likely be interested in a contract offer of around four years and $100 million, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post.
That being said, it has yet to be seen what kind of contract Cespedes may be able to find on the open market. Last offseason proved to be an fruitless one for the Cuban outfielder, as he remained a free agent well past the Winter Meetings, struggling to find a long-term deal. Of course, he eventually took the Mets’ offer of three years, $75 million (with the opt out after the first year, of course) over the Nationals five-year, $110 million offer that featured plenty of deferred money.
While the Mets will remain in the Cespedes sweepstakes this offseason, they do not appear to be willing to get into a high-stakes bidding war, according to Buster Olney of ESPN.
It’s become incredibly evident how important Cespedes has been to the Mets’ success over the past two seasons, carrying them to consecutive postseason berths for just the second time in franchise history, but there is a legitimate chance that they may have to envision life without him in 2017 and beyond.
While Cespedes playing elsewhere next season would certainly hurt the Mets chances at yet another playoff push, all would not be over if they allocated the money they plan to use on his contract to improve various other positions on the team. If they are to play sans-Cespedes next season, here’s a look at some pieces they could look to acquire via trade or free agency that could help keep the Mets in contention …
With Cespedes out of the picture, the first and most obvious position the Mets need to fill would be the outfield. While their options will be limited in free agency, there are a couple of quality bats that could certainly be a help to this team, one of which is center fielder Dexter Fowler.
Fowler, who made $8 million last season, was terrific in the leadoff spot for the Cubs in 2016, batting .276/.393/.447 with 13 home runs, 25 doubles, 13 triples, 84 runs scored, 13 stolen bases and an .840 OPS. Until the arrival of Jose Reyes, the Mets were desperate for a leadoff hitter this past season, and could still be in need of one. While Reyes proved he did have something left in his return to Queens, the 33-year-old infielder’s role is undetermined for the upcoming season, and considering how injury prone he’s proved to be over the course of his career, having an option as talented as Fowler would certainly be beneficial for this team. Fowler has received the qualifying offer, however, from the Chicago Cubs this offseason, meaning it would cost the Mets their first round pick if they were to sign him.
Another interesting option, albeit a potentially expensive one, is Ian Desmond. After a lackluster 2015 campaign cost him a long-term deal last offseason, Desmond could very well find that same contract he hoped for this year after a tremendous bounce back season. Playing as a full-time outfielder for the first time in his career, Desmond hit .285/.335/.446 with 22 home runs, 29 doubles, 71 RBI, 71 runs scores, 21 stolen bases and an .782 OPS—his highest since the 2013 season.
While Desmond would be a terrific fit, it is possible that his outstanding performance in 2016 along with his past years of success could price the Mets out. As recently as 2014, the former shortstop reportedly turned down a seven-year, $107 million contract extension from the Washington Nationals. It’s quite possible he will be looking for a similarly lucrative deal this winter after earning just $8 million this past season with the Texas Rangers. Desmond had also received a qualifying offer, which could impact the Mets’ interest.
While the contributions of T.J. Rivera down the stretch in 2016 were both surprising and welcome, the Mets would still be smart to look for a more proven solution at second base. Neil Walker, who made $10.55 million last season, was valuable in his first season with the team, as he batted .282/.330/.437 with 23 home runs (tying his career best), nine doubles, 55 RBI and an .823 OPS.
Walker’s productive contract year came to an abrupt halt, however, after the 31-year-old second baseman underwent season-ending surgery on his back to repair a herniated disc in August. On Monday, the Mets extended the qualifying offer to Walker, worth $17.2 million this season. It seems likely that he would accept the offer rather than a long-term extension with the club.
Another interesting option for the Mets at second could be Detroit Tigers veteran Ian Kinsler. Despite turning 34 years old during the season, Kinsler was tremendous for Detroit, hitting .288/.348/.484 with 28 home runs, 29 doubles, 83 RBI, 117 runs scored, 14 stolen bases and an .831 OPS in 2016.
Kinsler is due $11 million next season and has club option for $10 million (with a $5 million buyout) in 2018, so the soon-to-be-35-year-old infielder is definitely still worth the production he’s putting up. The only question is what would the Mets have to give up in a trade for the still valuable second baseman? That price tag could very well be what keeps the team from pulling the trigger.
While the club will likely offer catcher Travis d’Arnaud arbitration over the offseason, one position the Mets should really look at upgrading is behind the plate. Last season, Mets catchers collectively batted .227/.300/.315 with 11 home runs, 17 doubles, 52 RBI and a .615 OPS, all among the worst in the league. D’Arnaud specifically struggled both offensively and defensively, as well as spending time on the disabled list yet again, putting his future with the organization in doubt.
While the catching market isn’t particularly strong this winter, there are a couple of options the Mets can look at, one of whom being Matt Wieters. It was a difficult season for the 30-year-old Wieters, who hit .243/.302/.409 with 17 home runs, 17 doubles, 66 RBI and a .711 OPS in 124 games for the Baltimore Orioles.
What’s even more concerning about Wieters is his health as he’s played just 225 games over the last three seasons. The Baltimore backstop became the second player to ever accept the qualifying offer last season and is eligible to receive it again this winter, but was not extended that offer before Monday’s deadline, so he will not be tied to draft pick compensation. If Wieters could be had on a one-year, prove-it type of deal, I think that’s something the Mets may at least look into. If it’s a long-term deal that Wieters seeks, however, it seems likely that the club would not take a risk on another injury-prone backstop.
Another option for the Mets in the catching market could be Jason Castro. Castro isn’t a perfect fit as he’s hit .215/.291/.369 with a .660 OPS since the start of the 2014 season, but he does bring some value. While 2016 was a down season for Castro all-around, his career splits against right-handed pitchers are worth noting. In 1,718 career plate appearances, Castro has hit .247/.328/.424 with 54 home runs, 91 doubles, 176 RBI and a .753 OPS against righties.
Another aspect of Castro’s game is his throwing arm as he threw out 31.1 percent of attempted base stealers in 45 tries this past season. Castro was even more impressive during 2015 as he gunned down a whopping 57.1 percent of attempted base stealers in 42 tries. While his defense as a whole isn’t great—Castro allowed a career-high 12 passed balls in 2016—his arm behind the plate is something the Mets could desperately use after teams ran wild on them this past season with Travis d’Arnaud playing the majority of the time.
Neither option is great as the catching market is thin this offseason, but either could be an upgrade for this club if they can be had at the right price.
Even with Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed anchoring the bullpen, the Mets entered the offseason in need of some relief help. Factor in Familia’s recent arrest for an alleged domestic violence incident and the situation becomes all the more complicated. The closer market is one of the strongest in free agency this winter with Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon all available, but all three are likely out of the Mets’ price range, even if they have the extra funds without Cespedes.
It’s even more unlikely that the Mets would bring in Chapman, who served a suspension for domestic violence earlier in 2016, to potentially replace Familia who will soon go to court on a domestic violence charge of his own. The team is also currently employing Jose Reyes, who also served a suspension for domestic violence earlier this season.
While the choices won’t blow anybody away, there are some solid, lower-cost options in the relief market after the big three closers, one of which being veteran right-hander Koji Uehara.
In his age-41 season, Uehara was solid for the Boston Red Sox, pitching to a 3.45 ERA (with a 3.51 FIP and 3.42 xFIP), seven saves (two blown saves) and 18 holds in 47 innings pitched in 2016. The biggest problem for Uehara this past season was his health, as he spent nearly two months on the disabled list due to a pectoral strain. If Uehara, who will soon turn 42, doesn’t decide to retire, he could be a solid veteran presence for the Mets out of the bullpen.
While it’s not my favorite choice, the soon-to-be 40-year-old Fernando Rodney will also be available. Rodney was spectacular in the first half of the season with the San Diego Padres, pitching to a 0.31 ERA with 17 saves, but struggled mightily after being traded to the Miami Marlins. In 39 appearances for Miami, Rodney had a 5.89 ERA and blew three saves in 11 opportunities. Rodney made just $4.1 million this past season, and could potentially be available at a similar price this offseason.
While the team’s biggest priority should be every day starters, the Mets could still use versatility on their bench, something they’ve lacked in recent years.
Steve Pearce, 34, would have been a solid option for the Mets at this years trade deadline, and he’s available once again in free agency. Splitting time between the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles in 2016, Pearce was extremely productive at the plate, hitting .288/.374/.492 with 13 home runs, 13 doubles, 35 RBI and an .867 OPS. The veteran proved to be very versatile as well, playing first, second and third base along with left and right field this past season.
Another extremely intriguing utility player that’s available is Sean Rodriguez. Making just $2.85 million for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Rodriguez was one of the team’s most valuable players, hitting .270/.349/.510 with 18 home runs, 16 doubles, 56 RBI and an .859 OPS. Rodriguez, like Pearce, is also incredibly versatile, as he spent time playing first, second and third base, shortstop, left, center and right field this past season alone. While Rodriguez did experience some down offensive seasons prior to 2016, he does provide to type of flexibility and versatility that the Mets could really use.
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There’s no question that re-signing Yoenis Cespedes should be the number one priority for the Mets this offseason. Hopefully they get it done, make yet another charge to the postseason and all of these options will be remembered as an unnecessary failsafe.
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