By Ernie Palladino
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By spring training 2017, the Mets’ roster will have changed.
That’s normal for any team. They need to upgrade themselves, particularly at catcher, third, and center field. A quality seventh-inning reliever wouldn’t hurt, either.
Whatever else happens at the start of the free agent period, the winter meetings and beyond, two Mets who disappointed in Wednesday night’s wild-card loss must return: Yoenis Cespedes and Jeurys Familia.
In Cespedes’ case, the Mets must go all out to re-sign the slugging outfielder. He’s way too important to a lineup whose run production remained nearly as spotty as it was in 2015.
And general manager Sandy Alderson must resist the temptation to yield to some of the more impetuous opinions that Familia must go because of the one bad pitch he threw to Giants no-name Conor Gillaspie in the ninth inning.
Familia first. Also taking into account his failure that he didn’t exactly shine in last year’s World Series — he gave up that tying homer to Alex Gordon in Game 1 and blew a record three saves — last week’s blast all but cemented his reputation as a postseason failure.
This is why some voices have begun the campaign to get Aroldis Chapman in a Mets uniform. And who can blame them after watching the Cubs’ triple-digit left-hander mow down the Giants to preserve the 2-0 NLDS lead they’ll take to San Francisco on Monday? A fastball that topped out at 103 mph Saturday night would look good in any uniform.
It sure did in Yankees pinstripes, right up until general manager Brian Cashman traded him for four prospects headlined by Class A shortstop Gleyber Torres.
So one can perfectly understand that a lack of postseason trust in Familia would have some folks clamoring for his departure.
But there are plenty of reasons to keep him around, too. Fifty-one come to mind immediately. Those would be the franchise-record saves he racked up during the regular season, without which the Mets wouldn’t have come within sniffing distance of the wild-card game.
No, he’s not Mariano Rivera. But who is? And yes, Familia does occasionally find himself in trouble. But the fact that he even got the Mets across the regular-season finish line should count for something. And there is no guarantee that Chapman, or anyone else for that matter, won’t suddenly collapse at a moment of postseason truth.
Nor is it guaranteed that Familia won’t someday eradicate his postseason woes. But before he can do that, the Mets must first get there. Familia has proved he can do that much.
Also, Familia comes a lot cheaper than Chapman will. In all likelihood, Familia will wind up in arbitration. He avoided that process last year by signing a one-year, $4.1 million deal. Whether Alderson sweetens that number enough to save himself the headache of an arbitration hearing remains to be seen. But no matter what Familia might ask, it’s going to be a lot cheaper than what Chapman will garner in free agency.
Alderson might even have to outbid the Yanks for him.
Wherever Chapman ends up, he’ll probably get upward of Jonathan Papelbon’s record $50 million over four years. That’s money the ever budget-conscious Mets will need if Alderson expects to make a serious play for Cespedes.
He’ll probably cost around $100 million over four years at minimum. But biting that financial bullet must top the Mets’ offseason to-do list. For all his quirks, Cespedes remained the catalyst for an offense that continued to live and die by the long ball.
It gets real simple with him. Get him back and the Mets retain the one big bat that came through for them consistently. Lose that, and the lineup backslides. It’s what naturally happens when a player who has slashed at .282/.348/.554 with 48 homers, 39 doubles and 130 RBIs in 189 games since his Aug. 1 arrival last year leaves.
Big production gap there, a hole the Mets can’t afford, even at the cost of $25 million per year. They did pay him $27.5 million this year, after all. And they were ready to pay him $23.75 million over the last two years of his current deal, so sweetening that and adding another year at the end doesn’t seem impossible.
Bottom line: The closer, despite his postseason failures, and the big bat, despite the price tag, must stay.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino