The New York Mets are on the verge of completing one of the most surprising and unlikely seasons of the 2015 MLB calendar. While the preseason called for the Mets to be a fringe wild card contender that could build a threat with its tremendous young pitching, there seemed to be not much else to go well over the .500 mark. To make matters worse, they shared a division with the almighty Washington Nationals, who were given an 87% chance to win the division, according to Fangraphs.
With two weeks left to go in the regular season, the Mets are 84-64, with a 6.5-game lead over the Nationals in the NL East, and 98.6% odds to win the division. They have already surpassed their preseason projected win total, and the current Mets are almost a lock to have the first 90-win season and playoff appearance since 2006, when New York came painfully close of making the World Series.
While the pitching has held its end of the bargain (6th in MLB in FIP, 4th in ERA, and 6th in WAR), the Mets’ season was at risk of being nothing more than a building block around the trade deadline. The Mets entered August with a 53-50 record, two games behind the Nationals in the division, and 3.5 back of the second wild card. They had a -6 run differential, and were scoring 3.5 runs per game. They were also fresh off botching a trade for Milwaukee’s outfielder Carlos Gomez, which would have been a good addition to boost the offense.
Almost serendipitously, they ran into the opportunity of trading for Detroit’s Yoenis Cespedes, after the Tigers had announced to the rest of the league that all of their pending free agents were available. Cespedes was acquired by the Mets almost at the last minute for two minor-league prospects, meaning that he would be playing for his fourth team in four seasons. His arrival in New York was seen as a call towards progress for the embattled New York front office, but I guess nobody actually expected what would happen.
Since August 1, the Mets are 31-14, with a +71 run differential and 5.75 runs per game. They seized control of the division, and have played like the best team in the National League for long stretches. In the middle of this amazing run, Cespedes has been the key figure and the turning point for what used to be a moribund offense. His production, and the effect he has had on his team has made his name buzz around the baseball universe as a possible NL MVP candidate, even as he spent more than half his season in the American League.
While Cespedes will finish with a great all-around season, his chances of actually winning the award are slim to none. As great as he has been, he will finish the year with fewer than 60 games played in the NL, and nowhere near the full-year stats of other greats like Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, and Joey Votto. However, Cespedes’ great run has also drawn comparisons to another AL-to-NL transplant that was instrumental for his team after being acquired in the middle of the season.
In 2008, Manny Ramirez finally wore out his welcome in Boston and was traded to the Dodgers also on July 31st. The Dodgers were 54-54 on that date, two games behind the division lead and 5.5 out of the wild card. After acquiring Manny, the Dodgers went 30-24, won the division, beat the Cubs in the NLDS, and lost to the Phillies in the NLCS. Manny was an instant sensation in Los Angeles, and his numbers were so great that he finished 4th in the NL MVP voting at season’s end, despite playing in only 53 games as part of the National League.
With this historical nugget in mind, today we ask: is Yoenis Cespedes’ 2015 run better than Manny Ramirez’s in 2008? Can it end in a better result? Where will Cespedes finish in a potential MVP race? Here, we will try to answer all of these questions and more.
Manny Ramirez 2008
53 Games, 229 PA, 36 R, 17 HR, 53 RBI, .396/.489/.743, 221 OPS+, 3.5 WAR
Yoenis Cespedes 2015 (through September 20th)
45 Games, 205 PA, 36 R, 17 HR, 42 RBI, .283/.332/.634, 161 OPS+, 1.9 WAR
Manny’s numbers get downplayed a little because the Dodgers had fewer games left on their calendar compared to what the Mets will have faced after July 31st, but it is still staggering to fathom his almost-.500 OBP and more than 3 wins above replacement in less than a third of the season. As good as Cespedes has been, he still falls short of what Manny did in 2008. A few cold stretches have reduced his ratio stats, even as his extra games will help match Manny’s RBI total and surpass his homers.
The thing about Manny’s 2008 performance after going to the NL is that he was certainly on a mission. After being infamously discarded by the team he had helped win two World Series, Manny became an unstoppable force that commanded 16 intentional walks in 53 games and 17 games with at least 2 RBI. On the other hand, Cespedes is merely continuing what was an underrated great season since he started with Detroit.
In a Tigers uniform, Cespedes hit .293/.323/.506 in 102 games, with 4.1 WAR. If we prorate his Mets numbers to a full season, they look quite similar to what he had already done. Even as it all translates to a fantastic season, one that lands Cespedes as the 5th-best hitter in baseball in terms of WAR, his time with the Mets hasn’t had the same impact of Manny’s arrival in Los Angeles a few years ago.
After wrapping up the regular season, Manny continued his tear in the playoffs. In 8 games, he hit .520/.666/1.080 with 4 homers and 10 RBI. It also included an additional 4 intentional walks, with Ramirez doing all in his power to bring Los Angeles a shot at the title. It didn’t work, but Manny made such an impact that the Dodgers renamed a left field section as “Mannywood”, similar to what the Mariners then did with Felix Hernandez’s “King’s Court” on the days he pitches at home.
Manny was re-signed as a free agent for two more years in Los Angeles, where he still produced a solid season as a 37-year-old in 2009, and then was traded again mid-season in 2010. Manny’s magical run in 2008 is still remembered in Los Angeles as the last great thing that happened under Frank McCourt’s up-and-down regime, with fans still wearing Mannywood jerseys and dreads to home games even in 2015.
Cespedes’ story with the Mets is, of course, yet to be written in 2015. He has limited postseason action via two ALDS appearances with Oakland, but he was more than solid with a combined .350/.395/.525 slash line in 10 games, with a homer and six RBI. The Mets are certainly hoping that he can replicate that kind of performance come October, when they will probably have to face the Dodgers and their wealth of pitching.
Beyond 2015, Cespedes will certainly be one of the most sough-after free agents of the offseason. His camp has been vocal in the fact that the Cuban wants at least a six-year contract that gives him stability after bouncing around so much in the beginning of his career. Even as the Mets have been recently known for their cash flow problems, their impressive collection of young stars will allow them to spend big on other assets, especially now that their window of contention appears to be open for a long time.
If I have to guess, I predict that Cespedes will re-sign with New York following the 2015 season. The good will built by this run and the influence he’s had on the franchise is bound to play a big role in his contract negotiations, and even as Cespedes will enter free agency at age 30, he should project to be a productive big leaguer for many seasons.
A Final Word
In 2008, Manny Ramirez set the bar too high for what a mid-season acquisition can do for a playoff team, and while Yoenis Cespedes won’t be able to match that, his contributions are more than enough to be considered historic. The Mets have suddenly become a serious playoff threat, and Cespedes is a big reason for that.
His change from the AL to the NL will prevent him from any serious consideration as a league MVP, but he still should get more than a few votes and finish in the National League’s top 10, which will still be a fantastic accomplishment.
In the end, the Mets and Cespedes will be some of the most memorable things of the 2015 season, and they can still make it even more impressive if they can compound their magic in October.