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What if Yoenis Céspedes doesn't opt out?

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There are pros and cons to Céspedes staying with the Mets.

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Last week, Yoenis Céspedes mentioned to the media that he intended to forgo his opt-out at the end of the season and play the entirety of his three-year contract with the Mets. Now I won’t go into much detail on my thoughts about those comments, mostly because Grant Brisbee already did a great job doing so in a fun, entertaining fashion. Normally I’d say that the player is just giving empty promises to the media regardless of his true intentions, because saying otherwise could provide bad PR and distractions to the team.

There is a chance that Céspedes actually meant what he said. Being happy where he works is clearly important to him. Of course, that doesn’t mean he can’t change his mind, especially if his agent hasn’t sat down with him to explain how much money he’d be leaving on the table if he didn’t enter a weak free agency class this winter.

So what does it mean for the Mets if Céspedes actually does choose to stay with the team? I’m sure that the front office was betting on him being in New York for only one year, so it would complicate their plans. The Wilpons would likely be furious as well, since they’d be on the hook for $47.5 million. Sure, the Mets are unlikely to make a splash in free agency this winter anyway, but the year after looks better. Furthermore, the team is unlikely to have the extra cash this year that comes with a World Series run, as they have no shot at winning the division and only a 17.6 percent chance of a Wild Card, per FanGraphs.

One problem that would arise is the Mets still having a glut of corner outfielders. The team’s experiment to put Céspedes in center field has been a failure, so that’s not an option. In center field this season he has been worth -7 DRS and -10.1 UZR. If you want to say that his true talent is better than that, you might be right, but I don’t believe it’s much better. Though Céspedes still has a cannon for an arm, he just doesn’t have the range for center field. I’m sure the Mets realize this too, because they tried Michael Conforto there in desperation. He’s an above-average fielder in left, but he has no business in center field. Alejandro De Aza has neither the bat nor the glove to start every day in center field.

That leaves Juan Lagares as the only viable center fielder, and hoping that he’ll hit enough is a big question. His 86 wRC+ has been good enough for the defense that he plays. His .148 ISO might even be sustainable given his big increase in line drive percentage. Right now ZiPS has Lagares as a true-talent .289 wOBA hitter, which will play as long as he continues being an 80 defender in center field.

With Céspedes staying, it would be in the Mets’ best interests to decline Jay Bruce’s team option for 2017. That’s both good and bad news. It’s good news because the Mets would get to save $12 million. The bad news would be trading a good second base prospect in Dilson Herrera for two months of Jay Bruce. So far it’s been a disaster. Since getting traded, Bruce has hit .165/.245/.271. That’s a 43 wRC+. You really have to hit badly to be worth -0.5 oWAR in only 94 PA.

Ironically, the corner outfield problem might solve itself if the Mets hang on to Terry Collins beyond this season. He clearly dislikes Conforto. His handling of such a talented hitter is both inexplicable and inexcusable. In 133 PA at AAA this year, Conforto has hit an outrageous .424/.489/.729. Even when accounting for the extreme hitter-friendly environment in Las Vegas, that’s outstanding. He clearly has nothing to learn there and is best served by playing at the major league level, preferably for a manager who actually cares about developing him.

The best answer I have is to play Conforto in left, Lagares in center, and Céspedes in right. Switching Conforto and Céspedes is fine too, I just chose to put the better arm in right. That leaves Curtis Granderson as the odd man out.

I’m not sure the Mets would do that because he’d be a $15 million bench player, and I don’t expect the Wilpons to understand sunk costs. However, that’s the best role for Granderson at this point. After having been worth an excellent 5.1 WAR last year, he has been replacement level this year. Part of that is last year’s excellent defensive metrics regressing, which we all saw coming. I doubt anybody was expecting him to hit for a .357 wOBA either, but I don’t think anybody was predicting a 48 point drop. He’s hitting .218/.308/.417 this season. Coincidentally, his isolated power is the same as last year. As you can see, he’s just not getting on base anymore. Part of that is because of a .243 BABIP, but he’s also walking less. His line drive rate is way down, and his ground ball rate is way up. He’s clearly declining. A bench role would suit him best. He’d be a great weapon to pinch hit against right-handed pitchers and sub in the outfield as needed.

The surprising thing about Céspedes is that despite expecting heavy regression after his outstanding 2015 season, he actually has hit better this season. He’s hitting .295/.367/.570. His biggest improvement has been in doubling his walk rate, which has done wonders for raising what has been a mediocre OBP in the past. He’s been worth only 2.7 WAR this season, but a lot of that has to do with his poor center field defense. Even if he played the entire year in left, it’s highly unlikely that he’d be worth a 15 DRS like last year.

If Céspedes continues to hit even close to what he’s hit in the past couple of seasons and stays out of center, one could argue that he’ll be worth $23.75 million a year going forward. This Mets team is hurting badly for offense. They are tied with the Rangers for 17th best offense in baseball by wRC+. Among qualified hitters other than Céspedes, only Neil Walker and Asdrúbal Cabrera have been above-average hitters, and Walker will be a free agent after this season.

Again, I don’t believe that Céspedes likes the Mets so much that he is willing to leave a big, fat new contract on the table. If he does stick around, though, it could be the best thing for the Mets if they make the right decisions along with it. With this team, that’s a very big if.

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Luis Torres is a Contributing Writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.

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