Two days after their attempt to trade for the Brewers' Carlos Gomez blew up in spectacular fashion, and just minutes before the 4 p.m. ET non-waiver trade deadline, the Mets finally landed a significant upgrade to their outfield, trading two prospects to the Tigers for Yoenis Cespedes. The 29-year-old Cuban defector is moving on to his fourth team in a year, having been traded from the A's to the Red Sox last July 31 and then to the Tigers on December 11. Arguably, none of those teams has needed him as badly as his new one.
A human highlight reel whose showcase video created a legend that preceded his 2012 arrival in the majors, Cespedes is hitting .293/.323/.506 with 18 home runs, a 125 OPS+, 11 Defensive Runs Saved and 4.0 WAR, numbers that represent career highs save for his on-base percentage.
For his career, he's a .269/.317/.473 hitter, posting a 118 OPS+ in what have generally been offense-suppressing environments, but has been prone to free swinging; recently he went 32 games without drawing a walk. He has a howitzer for an arm, however, and any concerns about his prodigious power not playing at Citi Field should be allayed by the memory of his 2013 Home Run Derby victory (his first of two in a row) and by this overlay from the ESPN Home Run Tracker:
Cespedes is making $10.5 million in the final year of a four-year, $36 million deal, and a clause in his contract prevents him from being issued a qualifying offer, which gave the Tigers an added incentive to trade him once they decided to become sellers, a process that began in earnest when they sent David Price to the Blue Jays on Thursday. At that salary, Cespedes is less expensive than either Jay Bruce or Justin Upton, two big-name outfielders the Mets were connected to in recent days, neither of whom were traded by their respective teams before the deadline. The Mets are reportedly taking on all $3.8 million of his remaining salary, which helps to offset one oft-circulated claim that it was Gomez's remaining cost, and not concerns about his hip, that scuttled that deal (he was traded to the Astros on Thursday). Between Cespedes, reliever Tyler Clippard and infielders Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, the Mets have taken on about $8.3 million in additional salary, according to the Newark Star-Ledger's Mike Vorkunov.
In the wake of the embarrassing Gomez non-trade—reports of which left shortstop Wilmer Flores on the field in tears, because manager Terry Collins had not been told by the front office that a deal was in the works—the Mets had to do something big to capitalize on a shot at their first playoff berth since 2006 and to restore credibility with an enraged and frustrated fan base. At 52–50, they came into Friday three games back in the NL East and 4 1/2 out of the second Wild Card spot, but they're still living off an early 11-game winning streak that bumped their record to 13–3. Despite a bumper crop of effective young starting pitchers who have helped them rank third in the league in run prevention at 3.63 runs per game, their offense has been unwatchable, hitting a combined .235/.300/.364 and ranking second to last in the league at 3.56 runs per game.
Since the end of the streak, that number has fallen to 3.37 runs per game, with David Wright out since mid-April due to a hamstring strain and then a diagnosis of spinal stenosis, and significant injuries to Travis d'Arnaud and Daniel Murphy as well. Among New York's regulars, only Lucas Duda (121 OPS+), Curtis Granderson (119 OPS+) and the since-returned Murphy (100) have provided average-or-better production, not enough to offset the replacement-level offense of catcher Kevin Plawecki, third baseman Eric Campbell and centerfielder Juan Lagares, or the merely below-average offense of infielders Ruben Tejada and Flores and leftfielder Michael Cuddyer.
Signed to a two-year, $22 million deal that cost the Mets their 2015 first-round draft pick, the 36-year-old Cuddyer has been a dud, hitting just .250/.303/.380. He finally went on the disabled list last week with a bone bruise in his left knee after literally limping through July and figuratively forcing Collins to do the same by playing with a 24-man roster. Hampered by budget constraints that have limited a team in the majors' largest market to its 10th-lowest payroll, general manager Sandy Alderson finally began shaking things up last week by DL-ing Cuddyer, promoting 2014 first-round pick Michael Conforto and trading for Johnson and Uribe, all of whom collected big hits while helping the team salvage a split in last weekend's four-game series against the Dodgers.
In the wake of the trade, Collins said that Cespedes’s arrival will mean at least a part-time return to centerfield for Granderson, who spent most of his first nine seasons in the middle pasture before signing with the Mets in December 2013. That means less playing time for Lagares, an outstanding defender who is hitting just .254/.280/.333 for a 71 OPS+. It also means that at least for the moment, Conforto is sticking around; he's 4 for 19 since being recalled, with all of those hits coming in last Saturday's 15–2 rout of the Dodgers.
To get Cespedes, Alderson didn't have to deal a pitcher from the Mets' stable of blue-chippers (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz) or even Zach Wheeler, who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery in March and who was intended to be the bigger piece alongside Flores in the Gomez trade. Instead, the team parted with 22-year-old Michael Fulmer and 23-year-old Luis Cessa, both right-handed pitchers. A 2011 supplementary first-round pick out of an Oklahoma high school, the 6'4" Fulmer cracked the Baseball Prospectus Top 101 Prospects list at No. 98 prior to the 2013 season, but he was limited to nine starts that year due to meniscus surgery on his right knee and wound up having a bone spur removed from his elbow at the end of last season.
Between one start at high A St. Lucie and 15 at Double A Binghamton this year, he's been stellar, posting a 2.03 ERA with 8.9 strikeouts per nine in 93 innings, with outstanding walk and homer rates (2.2 per nine and 0.4 per nine, respectively) as well. Fulmer generally sits 91-94 mph and touches the mid-90s with a fastball that has good plane thanks to his height, and owns a swing-and-miss slider, a solid curveball and a work-in-progress changeup, according to Baseball Prospectus’s Chris Crawford, who concluded, “His upside is a no. 3 starter who can miss plenty of bats, and assuming he stays healthy, he could be a member of the Tigers’ rotation by this point next summer.”
As for Cessa, a Mexican-born former infielder who's been in the Mets chain since 2009, he pitched well in 13 starts at Binghamton and poorly in five turns amid the pitchers’ hell of Triple A Las Vegas; overall, he has a 3.98 ERA with 7.5 strikeouts per nine in 101 2/3 innings this year. Via BP's Tucker Blair, his fastball sits 91-94 and can touch 95, with some deception. He's likely to gain velocity with a move to the bullpen, a possible destination given his stiff mechanics and fringy slider and changeup.
That's two potential contributors for the Tigers to go with the three lefties they received in the Price trade, headlined by well-regarded lefty prospect Daniel Norris. Given that Price was their only starter preventing runs at a better-than-average clip, that Detroit's bullpen has been a weakness for several years and that its farm system ranked dead last in the spring in Baseball America's Organizational Rankings, such added depth is a necessity.
Even if both pitchers wind up contributing in the majors, the cost may be worth it for the Mets, a team that hasn't finished above .500 since 2008 and one whose fan base quite understandably became frustrated by the front office's failure to upgrade the team's lineup to support a once-in-a-generation collection of pitching talent. Cespedes’s middle-of-the-order bat not only buys the Alderson regime much-needed credibility and goodwill, it could also provide enough punch to help power the team to a return to the postseason.