By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
It doesn’t take a great mind to see how Yoenis Cespedes has helped change the Mets.
What does is determining whether Cespedes should remain part of the franchise once the lease the Mets signed July 31 runs out. The notoriously flinty Wilpons will have to decide whether the money he’ll look for in free agency is equal to the financial pain the owners will have to endure to keep him around.
Anyone who has followed the Mets knows that this ownership group regards outward cash flow as others do dental implants — painful periods endured simply to keep up appearances, such as they have been.
But the recent success, much of it spurred by the 29-year-old former Oakland/Boston/Detroit star, might just get the moneymen to open up the pocketbook for him. In order to get him at a relatively reasonable rate, that must happen before the end of the season.
The longer the Mets wait on the decision to keep or cut bait, the harder it will be to retain Cespedes because of a contractual twist.
After coming free five days after the World Series, he has until May to explore the market. The Mets can’t re-sign him in the interim.
Assuming he continues to play at his current blistering rate, one can only imagine what kind of money he might command out there. He could be looking at five years at well over $100 million.
So, if the Mets really want to keep him around, Sandy Alderson had best do it through an extension. He might be able to land him for five years at $90 million, especially if Cespedes falls in love with New York as deeply as New York has fallen in love with him. That would require a leap of faith, but if the Mets indeed come out of this season with a division title and some advancement in the playoffs, he’ll be worth the expense.
Few can argue he won’t at this point. Since his arrival from Detroit, he has hit eight homers and played to a .284/.341/.560 slash line. Those homers, by the way, make up a nice chunk of the NL-leading 43 homers the Mets have hit in August, coincidentally a franchise record for any month.
He hasn’t hit cheap, meaningless ones, either. They would not have won that 14-9 slugfest 10 days ago in Colorado had he not gone on a three-homer rampage with a grand slam. Between his 18 homers in Detroit and his Mets production, he has already tied a career high.
The 23 RBIs count heavily toward the Mets’ six-run average offensive output in August. Anyone who thinks that is not a big deal would do well to remember the first four months of the season, when scratching out three runs for Matt Harvey or Jacob deGrom was considered Vesuvian.
The entire attitude has changed around this team. Note the current power outage against the Red Sox that looks like a mere blip in relation to the lineup’s previous struggles.
The numbers are only part of the story, however. Cespedes has done something that transcends a gaudy stat line that includes a whopping .920 OPS. He has made his teammates better. His presence in the second or, mostly, the third hole has taken a load of pressure off Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer, and inspired others like Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda and Juan Lagares. All had struggled mightily before Cespedes got here. Now, Granderson and Murphy have driven in 20 runs each this month, Lagares has 11 RBIs and Cuddyer eight in a part-time role.
A couple of professional hitters in trade pickups Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe also have helped immensely. But neither of those — especially the 36-year-old Uribe — should be considered a long-term fixture.
Cespedes, though, is different. He’s young. His best years lie ahead of him.
He can become the consistent, long-term slugger and run producer the Mets haven’t had for ages.
It’s all a matter of how much financial rope the Wilpons give Alderson. If they let Cespedes go into the open market, he might just sign with a division rival like Washington, where he will haunt them as the one that got away.
It might be worth it for the Wilpons to bite hard on that wad of cash, embrace the pain and lock in a catalyst like Cespedes for the next five years.