Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
When the offseason began, the thought of Yoenis Cespedes contributing to the 2020 Mets was a pipe dream. Then, he started hitting bombs. Then, his contract was restructured to incentivize him making it back on the field. Then, he started running.
Now, the idea that the 34-year-old Cespedes will trot out to left field in in the top of the first inning on March 26 against the Nationals at Citi Field before toting his lumber to the batter's box in the bottom of the first seems downright plausible.
Yes, Cespedes still needs to prove he can handle a full nine innings in left field. And yes, he still needs to get through the rest of the offseason without suffering any setbacks. But after roughly two seasons on the shelf, Yo is close. And his healthy return could have serious ripple effects on the 2020 Mets...
A very crowded situation in left field
In a world without a healthy Cespedes, the Mets would likely enter the 2020 season with J.D. Davis, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto as their starting outfielders from left to right.
Dominic Smith is also still on the team and will almost certainly be on the 25-man roster if he isn't traded between now and Opening Day. With Pete Alonso entrenched at first base, it's fair to believe most of Smith's starts will come in left field.
But what it Cespedes is healthy and ready?
Even when he was playing hobbled before having surgery on both heels, Cespedes was still an offensive force -- hitting .282/.343/.525 with 26 homers in 119 games in 2017 and 2018. If Cespedes can come close to matching that production (or exceed it, as he has kind of, sort of predicted), it would behoove the Mets to have him in the lineup as often as possible.
Just how often a healthy Cespedes would be able to play remains to be seen, but his presence would likely put a dent in Davis' playing time unless the Mets make other moves between now and then.
Cespedes had been slated to earn $29.5 million in 2020 during what is the last year of his contract. Instead, the restructure he and the team agreed to earlier this offseason means he'll earn roughly $20 million at most.
His base salary is $6 million, but it will rise to $11 million if he is on the Opening Day roster, or if he starts the season on the IL for an issue that is not related to his recent foot/ankle ailments.
Beyond that, Cespedes can earn roughly $9 million in incentives, with much of those incentives tied to escalators that kick in when he hits a certain number of plate appearances.
The above likely means that the Mets have budgeted roughly $20 million for Cespedes in 2020. And with New York already close to the $208 million luxury tax threshold, the potential money due to Cespedes could have an impact on player moves they make between now and the end of the 2020 season.
Potential added lineup protection for Pete Alonso
With the thought of Cespedes in the middle of a Mets lineup that also includes Jeff McNeil and Pete Alonso now tangible, here's what it could look like on Opening Day...
1. Brandon Nimmo, CF
2. Jeff McNeil, 3B
3. Pete Alonso, 1B
4. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
5. Michael Conforto, RF
6. Wilson Ramos, C
7. Robinson Cano, 2B
8. Amed Rosario, SS
9. Jacob deGrom, RHP
Because of Cano's status and the way he was utilized high in the lineup in 2019 even when he was struggling badly, he might find himself higher in the lineup than seventh.
But it can be argued that the above lineup puts the Mets in the best position to win every day, even though J.D. Davis is unfortunately relegated to the bench to make room for Cespedes in left field.
Either way, a healthy and productive Cespedes would mean significant protection for Alonso and a deeper lineup than the Mets have had in years.
There's always the chance the Mets turn around and trade Cespedes to an American League team if he proves his health. But after nearly two seasons of not having Cespedes and imagining what their lineup could look like with him in it again, it would certainly be tantalizing for the Mets to stay the course and see what kind of havoc that lineup could wreak.