Yoenis Cespedes, set to have surgery on both heels and expected to miss up to 10 months and perhaps more leaves the New York Mets in a predicament of how to replace his production. He has been riddled with injuries since signing his four-year, $110 million contract to remain with the Mets and the team’s fortunes have spiraled in direct proportion with his absences. When he’s played, they’ve been good; when he hasn’t played, they’ve been bad.
The positive aspect to the announcement is the end to the ambiguity. The Mets had functioned with a daily dread that even when he was deemed healthy, he was one step away from another injury that would keep him out for three months.
So, now they know.
Replacing him is a separate matter, especially considering the uncertainty in the front office with the departure of Sandy Alderson, the current tri-head GM of John Ricco, Omar Minaya and J.P. Ricciardi, and the club’s unknown strategy and payroll going forward.
There are calls for the Mets to tear down the entire structure and rebuild, but such a position is absurd. Trading the likes of pending free agents Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Devin Mesoraco and Jerry Blevins is obvious. Players under team control through 2019 – Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores – should be moved if there is a sufficient return, albeit steeper than what they will get for those approaching free agency.
If the Mets are truly thinking about trading deGrom or Syndergaard, that is a decision that must be made by the new permanent head of baseball operations, whoever that is.
That brings us to how best to move forward if the Mets truly intend on competing in 2019.
Given the structure of the club being built around pitching and the opportunity to get younger, a spin from Alderson-led strategy of slow-footed, feast or famine players who played station to station and did little other than hit occasional home runs, the Mets have an opening to do something that has not been done full tilt since the Whitey Herzog St. Louis Cardinals of the 1980s: build a team based on speed and defense with the pitchers to back up that strategy.
The Mets have been notoriously slow in recent years. They have been lacking athleticism, devoid of versatility, and shoddy defensively.
The words “small ball” have been largely extinguished if not outright excommunicated from the game like they’re a toxic disease that only anti-vaccination fanatics fail to see the damage they can do, but with deGrom getting losses or no-decisions in 12 starts in which he pitched at least six innings and surrendered 3 or fewer earned runs, would the Mets not have been better-served to get runners on base in the early innings, push the envelope by stealing bases, bunt them along when appropriate, get a lead and force the other manager’s hand to make desperate moves because they cannot fall behind by one run?
This is contingent on starting pitching – something the Mets have in comparative abundance.
Some have indulged in delusional speculation that with the money the Mets will save via insurance payments for David Wright and now Cespedes, they should go big in this winter’s free agent market by pursuing Manny Machado and/or Bryce Harper. Hypothetically, if the Mets were willing to make that level of expenditure, why would players in demand like Machado or Harper want to join the Mets with the club’s reputation for disarray, dysfunction and injury?
More to the point, the type of players who would fit into the aggressive style of play are available should the club be willing to eschew the glossy signing and go for an actual planned construction with players who can do more than one thing.
Ian Kinsler may be 36 and struggling at the plate in 2018, but he remains a superlative defensive second baseman with speed to steal 15 to 20 bases and hit 20 home runs. He’s a free agent, won’t cost a draft pick, nor ask for a long-term contract.
Billy Hamilton is available and despite his poor OPS, he’s a defensive stalwart in center field who, if turned loose, could easily steal 80 to 100 bases.
With Amed Rosario playing better and more aggressively, Brandon Nimmo’s skill at getting on base, the remaining potential in Michael Conforto, hackers like T.J. Rivera and Jeff McNeil who might not bring the precious walks that sabermetrics advocates pine for, but collect hits, would this type of team have a better chance at competing than the ones the Mets have put on the field in 2017-18?
When the club is slumping offensively and is not hitting home runs, what do they do to score? There’s no stopping speed; there’s no viable defense for the panic that ensues when there’s a runner on base who might steal at any moment and the team is aggressively forcing the action with hitting and running, exhibiting derring-do on the bases and showing fearlessness. In games where they’re not hitting or getting on base, their defense will be a contribution.
Since the Mets have failed in every other attempt to fill in and replace costly players who are hurt; with their annual strategies imploding as if that was their intent, how much worse could they be if they did something that hasn’t been done since the mid-1980s – and worked – with their most hated rival at the time that twice sabotaged the dominant Mets teams of Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry?
Those Cardinals ran wild on the bases, caught the ball, and won three pennants in six years. This is a preferable strategy to the Mets trading their cost-controlled faces deGrom or Syndergaard for “Random Prospects X, Y and Z” and the team couldn’t be any worse than it is now. They’d certainly be more interesting.