When the Mets pulled out of a rumored Carlos Gomez deal -- leaving an emotional Wilmer Flores on the field and a wounded Zack Wheeler on the DL -- many expected the worst from an ownership/front office combo that's become a bit of a punchline. But now, the Mets have actually added a real, live offensive player to their team, dealing minor league pitchers Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa for outfielder/legend Yoenis Cespedes. Turns out that the Mets aren't quite as ineffectual as we might've imagined.
The Mets Side
The Yoenis Cespedes of 2015 is a legitimate offensive upgrade on literally every team in baseball ... but he's not necessarily the offensive weapon his reputation makes him out to be. After just wrecking the 2013 Home Run Derby, he's kind of acquired a reputation as an offensive force of nature, but his flaws set off his prodigious power and prevent him from being an elite hitter.
Cespedes does have power, and is pretty much a sure thing to drop 20+ home runs in every season. But if you look at his Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), he's a quality bat, not an elite one. This season -- his best by quite a margin -- offers up a score of 125. That's good, it means that he's about 25 percent better than league average with the stick. But if you're expecting offense like, say, Josh Donaldson (148 wRC+) or Todd Frazier (140 wRC+) ... well, he's not quite that good.
His flaw is a simple one -- he doesn't walk. This year, his aggressive approach has earned him a 4.4 percent walk rate, and that means his OBP is driven entirely by his batting average. While that average (.293) is good, a .323 OBP isn't the greatest. So even though his power is, uh, powerful, the total package isn't perfect by any stretch.
However, Cespedes brings another really great skill to the table: he's developed into a very, very talented defensive outfielder thanks to a cannon arm and slick athleticism. He doesn't have the best instincts, but he makes up for that by blowing runners away at home plate, and making baserunners think twice about taking an extra base. An outfield alignment of Cespedes, Juan Lagares, and Curtis Granderson is pretty nice, from a defensive standpoint, and should help the Mets pitchers, were they ever to allow hits into the outfield.
The problem with Cespedes's defense, if you can call it one, is that he's really not a very good centerfielder, and the best offensive outfield alignment in Queens probably involves some combo of Cespedes, Granderson, and rookie Michael Conforto. If either Cespedes or Granderson is asked to man center, the defense immediately goes from "oh yeah!" to "oh no!" without Lagares manning the middle.
Cespedes is a pure rental, as it's tough to imagine the Mets will outlay enough cash to retain the man in free agency. But as far as rentals go, he's a pretty nice one. While a perfect fit might be a center fielder with a comparable bat, Cespedes immediately makes the team better, and gives them perhaps another win or two leading into a tough race to the second Wild Card slot with the Cubs and the Giants.
The Tigers Side
The return for the Tigers really isn't bad, as it hinges on Michael Fulmer much more than Luis Cessa. Fulmer was a big-time prospect when drafted by the Mets several years ago, but had since seen his stock derailed through injury and ineffectiveness. But in 2015, he took a big step forward, and regained his prospect status. His stats in Binghamton this year are sparkling: 1.88 ERA and 2.59 FIP, according to FanGraphs.
In Fulmer, the Tigers acquire the type of potential impact starting pitcher that teams love to have in their back pockets. While the David Price deal netted the Tigers two guys who can slot into the rotation today (Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd), Fulmer is probably about a year out. A No. 44 overall pick back in 2011, Fulmer's menacing fastball is finally showing now that he's fully healthy and putting up big numbers in Double-A. If he can avoid injury and pitch to potential -- big ifs, no doubt -- he could acquit himself well as mid-rotation guy. That's exactly the type of cost-controlled asset you'd love to get when shipping out a rental player: control + talent.
Cessa, however, is not the same sort of asset Fulmer is. He's a low-ceiling starting pitching prospect who may need to move to the pen to make the majors at all. He's the type of flyer you see passed around in trades all the time, but never as the centerpiece. He's a guy likely to fit in a bullpen somewhere, a live arm who can dial it up to 96 mph in short stints, but is just as likely to wash out as he is to post a WAR or two in the bigs.
The Big Finish
The Tigers didn't have to move Yoenis Cespedes, but adding prospect depth keeps the team from aging out and pulling a Phillies. And what I mean by that is they may have become so prospect-poor that the only help would've been to spend more and more money to restock the big league team, which inevitably leads to a crash. Adding a Michael Fulmer gives them at least a chance to rise from their downward turn with a cheap, effective asset.
As for the Mets, well, Cespedes isn't a perfect fit, but he's the offensive asset that the team desperately needs. And by dealing from a position of strength, they're not mortgaging their entire future for extra success today. Even if they fail in their run to the Wild Card, they still look like they're in good position for the next two years, ownership notwithstanding.
You know, in many ways, Michael Fulmer has been a bonus that the Mets really were not expecting. Sure, he was a highly-touted prospect several years ago, but after injury and effectiveness briefly derailed his career, it's not like the team was expecting him to go all deGrom.
In a way, the term for an asset like Fulmer is "found money" -- much like this entire season for the Mets. This is a team that probably shouldn't be deep in the hunt for a Wild Card slot, as they could be said to be a year away. But when good luck hits you -- believe it or not, this team has had good luck this season -- you roll with it. When a prospect like Fulmer surprisingly finds a groove, you spend that bonus asset on something you could really use.
It's super ironic that the Mets could use a found money prospect like Fulmer, given their persistent cash flow issues, but that's how things go. It's yet to be seen if the addition of Cespedes will be enough to carry the Mets into the postseason. If the Mets get more found money -- either from their farm system or actual cash, they could leverage that fascinating pitching staff into real wins.
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Bryan Grosnick is the Lead Writer for Beyond the Box Score and a contributor at Baseball Prospectus - Boston. You can find him on Twitter at @bgrosnick and his favorite food in the world comes from Cuba, sort of.