Harper: Yoenis Cespedes makes Mets NL favorites

By on January 25, 2016
John Harper

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Saturday, January 23, 2016, 10:23 PM

The addition of Yoenis Cespedes is what puts the Mets ahead of the rest of the National League.Maxx Wolfson/Getty Images

The addition of Yoenis Cespedes is what puts the Mets ahead of the rest of the National League.

So does the rather stunning re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes make the Mets the favorites in the National League to reach the World Series?

I’d have to say yes, with a caveat of sorts. I think the Cubs are built to be the best ballclub over 162 games next season, but should the two teams meet again in the postseason I’d give the Mets the slightest of nods because of their edge in starting pitching.

Don’t forget, the Cubbies won 97 games last season in the toughest division in the majors, and they’ve added Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Adam Warren to the best young nucleus of position players in baseball.

They’ve also reduced the glaring advantage the Mets had in starting pitching depth last October. The Cubs desperately needed at least one more top-quality starter to go with Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, and Lackey qualifies after posting a 2.77 ERA in 33 starts for the Cardinals last season — though at 37 his age could be an issue.

Meanwhile, I’d rate the bullpens about even after the Mets made a potentially vital move in signing lefty Antonio Bastardo last week as well, while giving the Cubs the edge offensively.

It’s a long road to get there but Mets-Cubs would make for a compelling rematch in the NLCS, again pitting the best young pitching in the game against the best young hitters.

Can’t imagine another sweep, that’s for sure. Much as the Mets owned the Cubs last October, it was something of a perfect storm as they rode Daniel Murphy’s unconscious wave, took advantage of the Chicago’s thin starting pitching, and cashed in on Kyle Schwarber’s poor defense in left field.

Still, assuming there is no hangover from the 2015 workload on the Mets’ young pitchers, it’s possible they’ll be even more dominant next season. After all, Matt Harvey will have no post-Tommy John surgery restrictions, Noah Syndergaard may just be growing into his limitless talent, and Steven Matz demonstrated brilliance in his first taste of the big leagues despite injury-related interruptions.

In any case, right now at least, Cubs-Mets looms as the most tantalizing possibility for next October. If nothing else, it’s fun just thinking about it on a snowy weekend in January while ecstatic Mets fans celebrate the return of Cespedes, who provides needed power and presence in the lineup.

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Of course, even that move doesn’t guarantee winning the NL East, as the Nationals aren’t going to implode as they did last season. They still have plenty of talent and while Dusty Baker isn’t exactly Buck Showalter in the dugout, he’s known for creating a healthy, winning environment among players, which seemed to be a huge issue under Matt Williams.

In addition, the Nats are likely to benefit from the perception that they’re now underdogs to the Mets rather than huge favorites to win the division.

Feeding into that perception, they’ve been rejected at nearly every turn this winter, failing on pursuits of Zobrist, Heyward, Justin Upton and now Cespedes. Murphy is their only major addition via free agency.

“They’ll have a lot of reasons to come out with a chip on their shoulder,” an NL scout said on Saturday. “I think a lot depends on (Bryce) Harper. If he can get past the (Jonathan) Papelbon issue — assuming they can’t trade him — and he sets the right tone with his play and his attitude, that’s still a very dangerous team.”

Meanwhile, Murphy’s presence as a Nat and the rather unexpected battle for Cespedes add a bit of spice to the budding rivalry.

No more than 7 images from any single MLB game, workout, activity or event may be used (including online and on apps) while that game, activity or event is in progressJared Wickerham/Getty Images

Jake Arrieta and the Cubs may be the Mets toughest obstacle as they bolstered the pitching rotation.

Makes you long for some baseball, doesn’t it? How long ’til Opening Day, anyway?

SPEAKING OF RIVALRIES …

At the owners’ meetings last week Hal Steinbrenner essentially committed the Yankees to honoring David Ortiz in September, saying, “I am sure we’re going to do something.”

And, OK, it’s a nice gesture but you can’t help but wonder if the Yankees simply feel backed into a corner here.

That is, they probably feel they have to reciprocate for the Red Sox’s honoring Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter on their retirement tours.

But I can’t imagine Yankee fans are on board with this. Ortiz has been a Yankee killer over the years and it drove fans crazy that their pitchers wouldn’t knock him off the plate.

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More than that, they feel Ortiz hot-dogged it at best, and showed up Yankee pitchers at worst with his bat flips and torturously slow home run trots.

In addition, Big Papi may be mostly beloved by fellow players, but he does have a PED stain, even though he denied the reports that his name showed up on the rather infamous 2003 list. That, of course, was the survey testing by the Players Association that was supposed to be anonymous but wound up outing Alex Rodriguez in 2009.

The bottom line is Ortiz is not Jeter or Rivera in terms of image, and let’s not forget, the Sox’s celebration of Rivera was done in poor taste as they mocked him with extended highlights of his role in the Yankees’ blowing the 2004 ALCS after leading the series 3-0.

Not that the Yanks should go down that road, but neither should they pretend that Ortiz is anything but a classic villain in the Rivalry, especially to the fans. And after all, what’s so wrong with that?

NO FIELD OF DREAMS

If there is any downside for the Mets in bringing back Cespedes, it is defense. With Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson in the corner outfield spots, Cespedes has to primarily play center field, and though he looked OK there until the World Series, scouts rate him as having below-average range in that spot.

When you factor in below-average range for Asdrubal Cabrera at short and Neil Walker at second, one scout said, “They might have the least up-the-middle range of any team in baseball.”

JULY 21, 2015, FILE PHOTOAlex Brandon/AP

The Mets’ rivalry with Bryce Harper and the Nationals should have some extra juice to it next season.

Defensive metrics make a similar case, and on fangraphs.com Dave Cameron writes flatly, “This is going to be a bad defensive team.”

But he also makes the case that offense and power pitching can overcome the defense. He notes that since the advent of the Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved metrics, the worst defensive team measured statistically was the 2005 Yankees, who won 95 games, and next-worst was the 2006 Yankees, who won 97 games. Both teams overcame that mostly by bludgeoning opponents at the plate.

Cameron makes the point that the Yankee pitching staffs those two years only struck out 12% of the batters they faced, making for a lot of defensive opportunities. By contrast the Mets’ power pitching struck out 22% of batters faced last season, and that percentage could rise next season with Syndergaard and Matz on board from the start, as well as Zack Wheeler returning at some point.

It’s also worth noting that Juan Lagares, at the very least, will be playing a lot of late-inning defense in center.

In any case, the Mets should have the pitching and hitting to more than make up for their defensive flaws over a 162-game regular season. Then they just have to hope their defense doesn’t rear its ugly head at critical moments in the postseason, as it did in the World Series.

MAN VS. MACHINE

MLB Network is doing its annual Top 10 rankings by position, as calculated by its computer-generated evaluation system known as The Shredder. Somehow it has no room for any Mets in its Top 10 Starting Pitchers.

The list: 1. Clayton Kershaw, 2. Jake Arrieta, 3. Zack Greinke, 4. David Price, 5. Chris Sale, 6. Max Scherzer 7. Corey Kluber, 8. Dallas Keuchel, 9. Felix Hernandez, 10. Adam Wainwright.

However, the network’s resident Hall of Famer, John Smoltz, begged to differ, including both Jacob deGrom and Harvey in his Top 10.

His list: 1. Kershaw, 2. Arrieta, 3. Scherzer, 4. Keuchel, 5. Greinke, 6. Price, 7. Madison Bumgarner, 8. degrom, 9. Sale, 10. Harvey.

Smoltz said innings-limits last season were all that kept him from ranking deGrom and Harvey higher, while noting that their postseason domination “is such an over-the-top for me.”

Smoltz said he expects their stock to continue rising.

“If teams had a draft right now, they’d both be in the top 10 or even top five,’’ Smoltz said. “DeGrom, this guy is soaring.”

Tags:
yoenis cespedes ,
new york mets ,
mlb ,
chicago cubs ,
washington nationals


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