You may not think I think that after you read what follows.
Cespedes’ acquisition is important on a number of fronts. But it does not guarantee the Mets a return trip to the World Series or the postseason, or even a better team than the Mets had last season.
Fangraphs.com, which had the Mets at 84 wins, now has them at 86 in their preseason projected standings. That’s two games worse than the Nationals, and even with the Giants for the wild card -- with the Cardinals, Pirates and Marlins all within five games.
Though last year may have shown otherwise, one player rarely has a 10-to-15 win impact on a team. This is not the NBA or NFL where a high-scorer or quarterback can make a dramatic impact. Cespedes gets three to four turns per game at the plate, the same number as everyone else.
Though Cespedes had an otherworldly hot streak that coincided with the Mets playing two of the weakest teams in baseball in the Rockies and Phillies (captip Joe Sheehan, whose newsletter dove into this in greater detail), he had a cold streak, too. In his past 16 regular-season games, he hit .218 with a .606 OPS, no home runs and 15 strikeouts.
In the postseason, some of Cespedes' flaws were exposed. He had a hole (against lefties it was more like a crater) at the top of the strike zone all season. The Royals in particular made him look bad. Also odd was how he didn’t hit well in his (albeit limited) time at Citi Field (.224 with seven RBIs in 27 games).
Also exposed on the first play of the World Series were Cespedes’ defensive issues in center field, when he misplayed Alcides Escobar’s fly ball into an inside-the-park home run. He’s at minus-17 defensive runs saved in more than 900 innings at that position.
Cespedes’ bat makes up for a lot of his deficiencies. But remember, before hitting 35 home runs and 42 doubles last season, he averaged 24 homers and 27 doubles in each of the previous three seasons. What you saw last season was Cespedes at his very best and that will not be easy for a now-30-year-old to match.
You also saw Cespedes deal with injuries. Some thought the shoulder issue that led to him leaving Game 4 of the National League Championship Series was golf-related. Cespedes survived what many thought would be a broken bone when he was hit on the hand in late September. And he drilled himself in the knee with a foul ball in Game 5 of the World Series. The more you age, the more injuries are likely to sting, and the Mets need Cespedes to avoid any prolonged injuries moving forward.
It should also be pointed out the Cespedes signing does nothing for David Wright’s spinal stenosis or Travis d'Arnaud's throwing issues. Though the Mets have backup plans in place for both players, they need that pair to stay healthy to be successful. Fangraphs’ projection of 86 wins was based on a season of 500-plus plate appearances from Wright.
Also, no one knows for sure that the Mets will commit to a $140 million payroll (which they're headed toward). The past four seasons, their payroll has been at $101 million or below on Opening Day. Sandy Alderson has never publicly said the Mets will have a payroll as high as it is currently. So could there be salary shedding coming? Perhaps we'll get a better feel for this when the deal is officially announced.
The rest of the National League isn’t going to roll over for the Mets. The Cubs are projected for 94 wins (they had a better offseason than the Mets and returned a very young team), while the Dodgers are pegged for 90. The math doesn’t bear out the Mets being quite at the level of those teams, which have better combinations of hitting and pitching.
The Mets are absolutely, positively a better team with Cespedes on the roster than they are without him. This is just a warning to those who tend to get carried away with such news (and based on my Twitter feed, there are a lot of you). Feel free to be happy and excited that the Mets have put themselves back in play as a team willing to spend. But curb Yo’ enthusiasm just a little bit.