It looks as though the Mets’ offseason plans will be largely contingent on whether Yoenis Cespedes opts in or out of the two remaining years of his contract.
If he opts in, then the Mets retain their best hitter for at least another season. But if he opts out, he will become one of the most sought-after free agents in an otherwise weak class– virtually guaranteeing a nine-figure multiyear deal.GM Sandy Alderson’s reluctance to ink players to big deals likely means that Cespedes is a gonner if he opts out– which ESPN’s Adam Rubin said the team expects him to do.
Cespedes said in August that he was not planning on opting out He has made very clear that he loves playing in New York– something the Mets undoubtedly have going for them– but it makes little sense from a financial standpoint. Cespedes could be walking away from at least $100 million– and possibly up to $200 million– if he decides against free agency.
The Mets already seem to have two of their outfield spots locked up. Curtis Granderson is under contract for next year and Jay Bruce has a $13 million team option for 2017. So to fill that final spot, Mets seem to have three of courses of action they can take this offseason if Cespedes signs elsewhere. They can sign an immediate replacement in the outfield, stay internal and start Michael Conforto in left field, or do a mixture of both. Here’s a rundown of the three options:
Free agent replacements: If the team is emphasizing winning and improving the team for 2017 over long-term player development, they have a few solid shorter term options on the market.
The biggest name in this category is Jose Bautista. “Joey Bats” missed 46 games this season with a knee injury and had a down year by his own lofty standards– batting .234/.366/.452 with 22 home runs and 69 RBIs. Given these factors and Bautista’s 36 years of age, a four-year deal of about $80-100 million seems to be fair for him. He’d essentially be a more expensive version of what Curtis Granderson was when he signed with the Mets three years ago.
Matt Holliday also makes sense in this situation. He’ll be 37 in January and has missed 141 games over the last two years, so it’s unlikely he’ll get more than three years from anyone. But he has still hit effectively when he has been healthy; he hit 20 home runs in 381 at-bats this season and was an All-Star in 2015. He still looks like he has some good baseball in the tank on a team-friendly deal.
Rajai Davis could work here too. The 35-year-old outfielder led the AL in stolen bases this year with 43– one more than the Mets had all season. For a team that needs a natural center fielder and able runners on the basepaths, an aging Davis would be someone who can provide both. And given his age, probably won’t demand a huge contract either.
Internal: The Mets could simply put all of their faith into Michael Conforto and give him a starting job in either left or center. To say this is a gamble would be an understatement.
Conforto has shown promise in the minor leagues and during his time in the majors in 2015, but had a nightmarish 2016. He batted .174/.267/.330 in 230 at-bats after May 1. He may have shown flashes of potential in the past, but it would be unwise to hand him a starting job given how he played this year.
They could also presumably use Juan Lagares in center if they wanted to, and hope he returns to the form that made him a Gold Glove winner and tolerable hitter in 2014. But that seems to be a stretch for a lineup that desperately needs to produce more runs.
Another option that could possibly work is to sign a middle-of-the-road veteran to a one or two-year deal to compete for the final outfield spot, and act as a safety net should Conforto struggle. This seems sensible if the Mets have strict budgetary constraints this year, or want to develop Conforto.
Austin Jackson is one player who fits this bill. He signed a one-year deal with the White Sox before the season, and will likely be looking at a one-year (or minor league) deal this year since he played in just 54 games in 2016. He is unlikely to cost more than a few million dollars, and has periodically shown flashes of talent in the majors.
Matt Joyce is another player who could be at play here. He was impressive as a part-time player with the Pirates this year, batting .242/.403/.463 with 13 home runs and 42 RBIs in 231 at-bats. Joyce also has pennant race and playoff experience from his years with the Rays, and his high on-base percentage is something that Alderson seems to like.
Other free agents who are of this description include Franklin Gutierrez (14 home runs in 248 at-bats for the Mariners), Seth Smith (16 home runs in 378 at-bats for the Mariners), and Gregor Blanco (.344 lifetime on-base percentage with the Giants).
Cespedes has until five days after the end of the World Series to opt out of his contract. Let’s hope he doesn’t pull a LeBron and decide on ESPN.