Yoenis Cespedes, OF
DOB: October 18, 1985 (30 years old on Opening Day)
Contract Status: First year of three-year, $75 million deal ($27.5 million salary)
If I could sum up Yoenis Cespedes‘ 2015 season in one word, it would be this: thrilling. After being dealt to the Tigers during the 2014-2015 offseason, Cespedes got off to a very good start. He saw significant bumps to his batting average, slugging, and on-base percentage. Before being dealt again at the trade deadline, Cespedes had smacked 18 home runs and posted an impressive .293/.323/.506 line (123 wRC+). That line was his best since 2012. A free agent to be, Cespedes fell victim to the Tigers’ fire sale, netting them Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa.
As we saw, Cespedes became a monster the minute he put on a Mets uniform. In just two months of play (57 games), Cespedes hit 17 home runs and slashed .287/.337/.604 (157 wRC+). While the Mets acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson and added David Wright, Travis d’Arnaud, and Michael Conforto to the roster, Cespedes was unquestionably one of the driving forces behind the Mets’ second half offensive turnaround.
For the year, Cespedes hit .291/.328/.542 (135 wRC+), finally matching what he did in his rookie campaign, at least offensively. All that, plus Gold Glove defense in left field, mostly with the Tigers, Cespedes earned himself 6.7 Wins Above Replacement from Fangraphs and 6.3 from Baseball-Reference.
Marcel – 603 PA, .265/.309/.480, 26 HR
Steamer – 595 PA, .259/.305/.464 (112 wRC+), 26 HR
ZiPS – 629 PA, .270/.312/.498 (125 OPS+), 30 HR
Projecting what Cespedes will do is an incredibly difficult task. In 2012 and 2015, he was a monster of a hitter and a true multi-dimensional threat at the plate. However, in both 2013 and 2014, he wasn’t able to do much outside of hitting some home runs. In those years, he posted wRC+ ratings of 102 and 109, only a bit above average.
Here’s what’s perplexing in this situation: Cespedes did not undergo a major swing change from 2014 to 2015. Unlike with Curtis Granderson, there is nothing you can point to and say “here is why he turned things around.”
If Cespedes somehow manages to repeat what he did in 2015, he’s the best hitter on the team and will more than make up for his defense in center field, no matter how bad it is. However, if he reverts to the Cespedes of 2013 and 2014, he will likely only be the fourth or fifth best hitter on the team, which would be a real disappointment considering how much he’s getting paid.
Do I think Cespedes’ 2015 results are going to be the new norm? No. He isn’t going to be a dynamic, lineup-changing force going forward. In fact, he has never really been that player, outside a few months last year. But if he can just perform somewhere near his career averages (.271/.319/.486, 121 wRC+), he will make an already good lineup even deeper. It’s unfair to expect Cespedes to be the game-changing player he was in the final weeks of 2015, but he should be a solid hitter.
Cespedes’ defense in center field is also a concern of mine, given his -17 DRS and -17.6 UZR/150 at the position. Defensive statistics are far from perfect, so we won’t really know for sure what will happen this season. However, I would expect Terry Collins to often do what he did in quite a few postseason games: take out Conforto, move Cespedes to left field, and put Juan Lagares in center field for defensive purposes. While having Lagares in center for high leverage situations will help, it remains to be seen whether the Mets will be able to tolerate playing Cespedes there. If not, thankfully Cespedes’ deal is essentially a one-year contract.
I still maintain that Cespedes is a massive long-term risk, but for now he should be a net positive. If I had to predict what he’ll do, I’d say somewhere between ZiPS and Marcel. Neither are the out-of-this-world production that many people expect, but they would give the Mets average or above average offense at every single position. With our pitching staff, that’s a scary thought.