Does Yoenis Cespedes Make the Mets the Best Team in the National League?
When the offseason started, the odds of a reunion between the New York Mets and Yoenis Cespedes seemed remote.
Cespedes would be looking for a mega-deal, coming off a season in which he was worth 6.3 rWAR and 6.7 fWAR, something in the neighborhood of six-to-seven years and potentially $150 million. But as the winter months wore on, it seemed clear there wasn't a single team in baseball that had the appetite for a deal like that for the 30-year-old Cuban star.
That's pretty hard to believe, considering last year he hit .291/.328/.542 with 35 homers, 105 RBI, 101 runs scored, a wRC+ of 135, an fWAR of 6.7 and a nERD of 2.26. He did most of his damage in August and September after coming to the Mets, hitting 17 dingers and knocking in 44 in 57 games, although it came at the expense of a career-low walk rate of 4.9%.
Usually, a six-to-seven win player can be guaranteed big bucks in free agency, even if he is looking for a deal that would pay him big money into his mid-to-late 30s. But they never came.
Finally, after the Washington Nationals reportedly offered Cespedes a five-year contract, the Mets got creative and offered him a three-year deal worth $75 million. However, that deal includes a buy-out after this season, meaning that, if Cespedes has another season like he did in 2015, he'll likely test next year's free agent market, expected to be a much weaker class.
It's great for Cespedes, because it means he can still go for the mega-contract he was looking for, and he gets to play for a team he really enjoyed being with, the Mets. And it's good for New York because they get a motivated player in 2016, and even if Cespedes doesn't opt out, they're only on the hook for two additional seasons, taking him through his age-32 season.
So what does Cespedes' signing mean for the National League? Does it vault the Mets to the top of the heap, or is the team they beat in last year's NLCS, the Chicago Cubs, the best team on paper right now?
Using Steamer's projections, let's take a look.
We're not tabulating every single member of each team's 25-man roster. We're simply looking at the eight players expected to be everyday starters, the top five in the rotation and the top four relievers on each teams' MLB depth chart.
According to Steamer, the collection of New York Mets above would be worth 35 wins above replacement. Of course, we should also consider that, by the middle of the season, Bartolo Colon may not be New York's number-five starter. That job could go to Zack Wheeler. But for the moment, we'll use Colon's numbers.
And now, here is what the Cubs' WAR looks like.
Again, not taking the entire team into consideration, the Cubs get 45.7 wins above replacement from their core. That's an additional 10.7 WAR over the Mets' group.
Now, of course, other projections may differ from Steamer's numbers, and you never know what's going to happen once teams start playing. Will the increased workloads experienced by many of the Mets' young starters make them less effective in 2016? Will Jake Arrieta's huge bump in innings last year affect him next season?
As of now, Steamer is down on Cespedes' 2016 outlook. They have him slashing .259/.305/.464 with 26 homers, 83 RBI, a wOBA of .328 and a wRC+ of 112, worth just 2.6 WAR. That's far lower than the 6.7 he put up last year but is more in line with the 3.3, 2.4 and 2.9 he put up the three years prior to 2015.
And given Cespedes will now be the team's primary center fielder, it's expected the team will lose some run prevention. In his career, Cespedes is worth 32 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in left field, but is worth -17 DRS in center.
Even with that, the addition of Cespedes does make the Mets better. And if he has another season like 2015, it'll close the gap between New York and Chicago even more.
But for now, the Chicago Cubs appear to still be the best team in the National League.