Monday, July 13, 2020

What The Future Might Bring

I was doing my morning reading and came across this mailbag column by Mike Puma in the New York Post. One reader asked about the possibility of signing Yoenis Céspedes to a new contract, as long as he proved to be healthy this year and the DH remains in the NL.

It's an interesting question that I've spent some time thinking about myself. As far as I know, there is no guarantee there will be a DH in 2021. When MLB and the Players Association were trying to come to an agreement last month, there were proposals that included both this year and next which would have ensured a DH in the National League next season. Since there was no agreement on any proposal, my understanding would be that a DH next season is not a foregone conclusion. It would have to be negotiated before next season.

So, bottom line, if I was GM and wasn't sure that there would definitely be a DH in 2021, I wouldn't bring back Cespedes. At this stage of his career, the ideal situation for Yoenis would be as a part-time outfielder and part-time DH. Still to be determined this year would be if he was healthy enough to play outfield semi-regularly.

Even if there was some certainty that there would be a DH in the National League again next season, I would only feel comfortable inking Cespedes to a new contract if I felt fairly confident that he could give the Mets flexibility by playing outfield at least 3 times a week. Unless his offensive skills completely deteriorate, Robinson Cano will need to DH part-time. DH would also be a good place to get J.D. Davis and Dom Smith some ABs. The Mets might even want to give Pete Alonso a partial day off here and there by playing him at DH.

Unless the Mets roster changes considerably, I don't see them as a team that would want to have a full-time DH. I like Cespedes, and believe that he could well be a productive hitter into his middle and late 30s, I just don't trust that his history of leg problems won't return if he's asked to play a lot of outfield. Unless Pete Alonso proves to be a one-year wonder, which I really don't see happening, first base isn't going to be an option. I've also followed baseball long enough to note that a lot of late-career moves to first base have not panned out.

Going back to my original question as to what I would do if I was Mets GM, even if I was convinced  Céspedes could give me 70-80 games in the outfield, and that the NL DH would definitely still be in place next season, I don't think I'd be willing to sign Yoenis to more than a 2-year contract. I would only do that if his play in 2020 convinced me that the ability to be a dominant hitter was still there. With Robinson Cano's contract not expiring until after the 2023 season, the Mets simply can't afford to take too big of a chance with Yoenis Céspedes. I love the guy, but you can only have so many full-time DHs on a team.

The other interesting question to me is about Cano's future. What happens if he doesn't bounce back offensively? Imagine a scenario where Cano's offensive output is similar to last year's, or possibly even declines further. If he was still a great second baseman that would be one thing, but he's not. He's not even the best second baseman on the roster. If Cano puts up below average offensive production this year and is still struggling a couple of months into the season in 2021, how much rope does he get? Remember, the Mets still have to pay him $20 million per year through 2023.

The easy thing to say as a fan is "cut him loose", but teams are generally unwilling to do that with years left on a large contract. I guess a lot depends on whether there is new ownership in place, which seems likely, and whether Brodie Van Wagenen is still the GM, which seems like an open question right now.

There has been a lot of speculation on what Van Wagenen's future might be if the team is sold, with the thought that a new owner might want to put new management in place. I guess that would depend on the personality of the buyer and how this 60-game season unfolds. If the Mets play well, that's likely to increase Van Wagenen's chances, especially if Cano and Edwin Diaz perform well. If the Mets struggle and Cano and Diaz suck wind, that's likely to decrease BVW's job security.

In Puma's mailbag column linked to above, there was a question about Van Wagenen's future. Puma mentioned the possibility that a new owner could keep BVW as GM, but someone would be placed above him in the role of Team President. I could see that as a possibility.

If I was buying the team, I'd probably look at more than this season's outcome or even the performance of Cano and Diaz. I've been impressed at what the Mets have done in the draft since BVW took over, and I like the recent international signings. There's a lot more to running a club than just the trades a GM makes. I'd probably want to evaluate the entire operation. These are things you can't really guess at from the outside looking in.

Whether it's the future of Brodie Van Wagenen or Yoenis Céspedes, the ultimate answers to these questions lays in the future. The upcoming season may answer some of these questions - provided there is a season. If the virus defeats MLB's efforts to keep it at bay and the season gets shut down then these decisions, particularly with Céspedes, become even less clear.

I'm out for today. Please stay safe, be well and take care. I'll be back tomorrow.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos

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