The 2015 Mets will someday be the subject of an excellent book. Their season had everything. Thrilling highs, terrible lows, and a dashing hero that saved the day. There were superheroes and villains, anti-heroes and Wilpons. Perhaps someday the 2015 Mets will even be the subjects of an Oscar-nominated film adaptation of the book, starring Miles Teller as Matt Harvey. It will be great.
After such an eventful season, a season that culminated with a World Series appearance no less, the Mets have yet to make a truly large addition to their roster. While Daniel Murphy has signed with the division rival Nationals, and Yoenis Cespedes is still adrift and looking for a home, they've brought in Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera to revamp the middle infield. The unflappable Bartolo Colon has returned to occupy a rotation spot until Zack Wheeler gets healthy, and reliever Jerry Blevins is back as well.
Also in the fold is Alejandro De Aza. De Aza is a largely unremarkable player and something of an adventurous outfield defender. However, he can wallop right-handed pitching. He hit .278/.351/.448 against righties in 2015, and he's likely going to form some sort of platoon in center field with Juan Lagares. The righty Lagares had a 65 wRC+ against same-handed pitching, which means he's ground into a Juan Lagares-flavored powder by them. The platoon with De Aza won't be remarkable, but it should get the job done.
But De Aza is not Cespedes. He's not Justin Upton nor is he Alex Gordon, or even Denard Span. He's not the big fancy toy under the Christmas tree that's come to be expected when a major market team makes it to the World Series and falls short. Most importantly, he's not Cespedes. Cespedes came to New York and for 57 games he may well have been the best player in baseball over that time. In 249 plate appearances, Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 and launched 17 home runs. He was so, so good. He was the knight in shining armor that rode into Flushing and set the Mets offense free from the shackles of mediocrity that held them down. His bungles in center field could be forgiven because of the mightiness of his bat, and Mets fans cannot be blamed for falling so deeply in love with him so quickly. For a few wonderful months, Cespedes was the biggest star in New York.
And now he's gone, lowballed away, perhaps even about to be snapped by by the Orioles or the White Sox. When he signs somewhere that isn't with the Mets, there will be utter hell to pay on Twitter and on the switchboard of WFAN. I do not envy Mike Francesa for the job he will have to do in the coming weeks. I do not envy the tweets that Mets beat writers will receive. It's only natural that Mets fans are going to be furious when Cespedes signs elsewhere. There will be a lot of talk about payroll, and almost all of that talk will be very justified. The Mets' financial situation is abhorrent and needs to be addressed. That's not what this article is about. It's about the roster as it currently stands.
Are the Mets truly without hope in a Cespedes-free future? Absolutely not. The Mets will still have one of, if not the best rotation in baseball in 2016. They'll still play in a weak division where the only competition will the Nationals, who just signed the defensively inept Murphy and the offensively inept Stephen Drew. The Marlins will be incompetent as usual (and they may yet trade Jose Fernandez), the Phillies are rebuilding, and the Braves are standing in the corner with buckets on their heads.
That's to say nothing of a full season of Michael Conforto, and hopefully decent health from David Wright and Travis d'Arnaud. The De Aza/Lagares platoon will be useful, and the Mets can count on steady if unspectacular offense from the middle infield. There's a very real scenario in which every position on the diamond contributes double digit home run power. But, if we're to believe the narrative, the Mets are dead in the water without Cespedes.
Where exactly would the Mets have put Cespedes if they had retained him? He likely would have wound up back in center field, as Conforto's continued development is too important to bench him and Curtis Granderson shouldn't be caught dead outside of a corner position. So Cespdes would be asked to fake center field again. We all know how well that went.
That's but a brief taste of the center field edition of Cespedes, who isn't getting any younger anytime soon. He already has -17 defensive runs saved in center in 912.1 innings, and he'll be playing out his next contract on the wrong side of thirty. He wouldn't make it until May before Francesa starts taking callers complaining of the awful defense that the Mets would be witnessing in the most important outfield position.
Upton and Gordon are strictly left fielders, so they don't make sense as Mets targets either. Span has some very real injury concerns, and the Mets need health. So in a way, Cespedes was never coming back regardless of the money, and they were never going to sign Upton or Gordon for the same reasons. The Mets need a true center fielder, or someone who can fake it better than Cespedes.
It's only New Year's Eve. There's still plenty of time for Alderson to pull off a trade. Someone like Charlie Blackmon, who provides some pop and can fake center better than Cespedes, makes sense. Austin Jackson is still out on the market and could be a good rebound candidate. Both acquisitions would push De Aza to the bench, where he belongs. There's still some winter left. The Mets can improve even more. But it should be very clear that the Mets are pretty damn good right now.
Life after Cespedes is hard, and it'll be harder when he puts on another team's jersey at a press conference. Yet the Mets still have an excellent shot at returning to the playoffs. Let's all back off the ledge a little bit. Let's reflect on what was, and what's to come. What was was perhaps the wildest ride we've seen inside a single season in quite some time. What was was an at times infuriating and at times ecstatic season of baseball. What's to come is bushels of excellent pitching, and more than adequate hitting to go along with it. What's to come is more fun times at Citi Field. And maybe, just maybe, a really good book about the season that just was. Have a happy 2016, dear readers. Go meet the Mets, both old and new.