Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is perhaps the single most important key to how far the New York Mets go in 2018.
Buster Olney recently released his Top 10 left fielders in baseball in an ESPN Insider article and ranked Cespedes at No. 5.
“Cespedes’ physical condition at the outset of spring training might be the biggest story in Mets camp again because of how last year played out,” Olney said.
“He reported to camp with the body of a middle linebacker after an offseason of heavy weight training, and after daily eruptions in batting practice, the Mets were hopeful that he would have a monster season.”
“But given the structure of the Mets’ lineup and the $87 million they have invested in Cespedes moving ahead, it’s hard to imagine they can win in 2018 unless the 32-year-old Cespedes plays in 130-plus games. If he played 150 games, he would probably be MLB’s best left fielder.”
Cespedes inked a four-year, $110 million contract before the 2017 season to remain with the Mets. However, he played in just 81 games, hitting to a .292/.352/.540 clip with 17 home runs and 42 RBI in 321 plate appearances.
A healthy Cespedes would do wonders to help bolster the middle of New York’s order in 2018, as Olney suggests. For one, it would help restore some of the power the team traded away during the summer months.
The Mets clubbed 224 home runs in 2017, shattering a club record of 218 that was set in 2016.
However, with New York’s playoff hopes falling by the wayside, general manager Sandy Alderson dismantled the team and traded away big boppers Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson and Neil Walker. Combined, they were good for 75 home runs for the Mets before being dealt.
After their respective trades, the players went on to hit 31 more long balls combined. Add that up, and that is 106 homers, nearly half of the clubs total. With that being said, the Mets now have some serious work to do this offseason to replenish the offensive output that these four players produced.
We’ve seen what Cespedes is capable of when he’s in the lineup, and while he has reportedly changed his workout regimen, he needs to prove he can stay on the field. His OPS+ over the last three seasons with the Mets are 155, 136 and 132, respectively. Having that in 2018 would provide the team with a much needed boost.
In his past two seasons, he also has a .367 wOBA and 135 wRC+ and .369 wOBA and 135 wRC+, respectively.
A healthy Cespedes could also see him correct his fielding. In 2017, we saw his UZR dip to -2.9 and he was good for just two defensive runs saved (DRS) over 630.2 innings in left field.
For a point of reference, in 2015 where he appeared in 159 games between the Mets and Detroit Tigers and spent 1,022.1 innings in left, he had an 18.8 UZR and was good for 15 DRS. That year he also captured the Gold Glove award.
He split time between center and left in 2016, the former of which he vastly struggled at when holding down the position. He had a -10.6 UZR in 495.1 innings and had -7 DRS.
The veteran will spend a majority, if not all, of his time in left where he has historically better numbers. If he focuses on staying healthy this offseason and carries that into the season, there’s no reason why he can’t return to what we have seen from him at that position in the past.
The Mets are going to be trying to fill several holes for next season, and there are a lot of question marks with returning players.
Michael Conforto‘s status is up in the air for the beginning of the season, and it’s unclear as to what level of play he will return to upon coming back.
Cespedes is one of the senior members on this club and will have to step up and live up to that monster contract, and the Mets will certainly need it.