Much to the chagrin of the rest of the NL, Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes inked a 4-year, $110MM pact with the Mets yesterday. Cespedes, since joining the Mets at the trade deadline in 2015 has played 189 games, slashing .282/.348/.554 with 48 HR, 39 doubles and 130 RBI. He has probably also put up a couple of good rounds on the links. The golfer/left fielder will now spend his age 31 through 34 seasons with the Mets at an average annual value of $27.5MM per season (he only makes $22.5 this year and his contract increases after that because Curtis Granderson, Jay Bruce and Lucas Duda will all be coming off the books after this season.) This is a fantastic move for the Mets organization, I don’t think there’s a single player or fan (or front office member) who didn’t want to see La Potencia back in a Mets uniform, but the price is a little steep. The price will not have mattered if they can finally capture that elusive World Series title.
While the signing of Cespedes is sure to add some pop to what would be a fairly dormant lineup without him, it presents a problem for the Mets: who will play center field? After Cespedes injured his quad last season, the Mets traded for left-handed slugger Jay Bruce to cover for the offensive loss, but he is limited to playing right field, and a poor right field at that. Granderson, gold-glover Juan Lagares (who is mostly a defensive replacement at this point), and youngsters Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo all spent time in CF, but none of those guys profile as a long-term replacement in center. Conforto wasn’t terrible in CF over his 39 innings there in 2016, garnering average stats (at worst) according to sabermetric fielding stats such as Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating. In spite of this, they still probably need one more righty outfielder. I would look for them to trade Jay Bruce, seeing as there will be very little interest in the 36-year-old Granderson who is owed $15MM this year and put up one of the worst offensive seasons of his career in 2016. Bruce is owed $13MM for this upcoming year, but they can’t have three left-handed right fielders on the roster come opening day, so shipping Bruce out would get them some more payroll flexibility if they choose to spend, and at the very worst grab them a lower-level prospect. It’s unlikely, but if they end up making Conforto available (he still has five seasons of team control left) they could get a pretty nice prospect haul and/or a major league-ready centerfielder. If I had to pick one of the two more likely to get traded, I’d go with Bruce.
The Mets could still go to free agency to pick up a right-handed centerfielder at a relatively low price, as players like Austin Jackson and Coco Crisp are still available, or they could go after former Met Carlos Gomez, who may be a bit pricier but certainly will not command the money he would have gotten prior to his abysmal 2016 season.
The Cubs signed veteran southpaw CF Jon Jay to a one-year $8MM deal yesterday, in a move that likely surprised many Cubs fans. I was a little surprised by the signing, and the one thing this tells me is that they are likely ready to move on from Dexter Fowler in center. This means Fowler is now available to anyone who wants to pick him up (heads up Mets! You need a CF! Fowler is available! Make it happen!) and I see him probably landing a four-year pact around $15MM a season somewhere. I could see him going to the Cardinals, though I’m not positive they want to limit youngster Randal Grichuk’s playing time just yet. If he doesn’t go to the Cards, some analysts say he could end up with the Blue Jays, who have shown “strong interest” according to Jon Heyman. If he does go up north to the Rogers Centre, Fowler would likely have to move to one of the corners to accommodate incumbent CF and superhuman defender Kevin Pillar.
Jay himself is not a standout, though he has good speed and a nice OBP, so he profiles as the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter for this upcoming season. He’s a pretty average defender in terms of sabermetrics, so the only noteworthy thing about the signing seems to be that the Cubs have moved on from Fowler.
The clock is ticking on the new collective bargaining agreement between the MLB Players’ Association and the owners, though Ken Rosenthal tweets that there was “progress” made last night. Rosenthal also reported (last week) that the owners would strongly consider locking the players out if a new agreement is not reached by midnight tonight. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that point, and seeing as the talks have progressed in recent days I find it unlikely that a lockout will come, even if the CBA expires. With that in mind, there is still work to be done. Some points of contention include (but, obviously, are not limited to): an international draft, draft pick and free agent compensation and penalties for exceeding the luxury tax threshold. If a new deal isn’t reached before winter meetings, there is a chance those winter meetings will not happen at all. Let’s hope the MLB and MLBPA can come together and figure out a deal because there hasn’t been a work stoppage in 21 years, and I don’t think either party is hoping to set that counter back to zero.
Edwin Encarnacion is reportedly close to signing a deal, and likely will sign on somewhere before the middle of December, according to Rick Westhead, a reporter for the Canadian sports network TSN. In a previous article, I predicted that he would sign a deal in the range of $100MM, and the Blue Jays offered him $80MM for four years earlier this month, so I wasn’t too far off. I didn’t think he would end up signing back with the Blue Jays, but as more news about E5 comes out, it seems increasingly likely that he will end up back in Toronto. If he doesn’t end up there, Houston and Boston are probably the next two most likely landing spots.
Encarnacion going to Boston or Houston would give him the best chance of winning a ring; Toronto doesn’t have a starting rotation of the same caliber as Boston or Houston, and the other two offense are far more potent, since neither of them lost big name players to free agency. Without Bautista (and Michael Saunders, their LF), the Blue Jays’ offense looks a lot less threatening, and the Red Sox still have an elite crop of young, good hitting: Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, and Jackie Bradley Jr. The Astros also boast a very talented young lineup: Carlos Correa at short, Jose Altuve at second, Alex Bregman at third, and George Springer and Josh Reddick in the outfield. Wherever Encarnacion ends up, he will turn the team from a probable playoff contender to a shoo-in for the division.
(Image credit: USA Today)