Saturday, January 23, 2016

Joey's Small Bites: Cespedes and His Fellow Outfielders Could Make Mets Homer History

Hello, all you snowbound Mets fans.  I'm Joey Beartran and despite all the white stuff piling up outside my window, I'm thinking Mets baseball.  And why am I thinking Mets baseball?  Because of the news that the Mets did what no one thought they would do.  No, the Wilpons didn't sell the team.  But they did max out their credit cards.

Just as the first flakes flew last night, the news came out that the Mets had signed Yoenis Cespedes to a three-year, $75 million contract with an opt-out after the first year.  The stunning news that Washington couldn't buy Cespedes for five years and give him a front row seat for Daniel Murphy's next costly error shocked Mets Twitter - myself included.

It became very difficult for me to hibernate for the evening upon hearing that bit of information.  After all, throughout the off-season, Mets fans had been clamoring for the return of Cespedes, but they fully expected him to be out of the Wilpons' price range.  Then the news became official and the numbers starting running through my head.

With Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson manning the corner outfield positions and Cespedes taking over as the team's center fielder, it occurred to me that the Mets outfield will produce a lot of home runs.  After all, Cespedes hit 35 homers last year between the Tigers and Mets, while Granderson rocketed 26 blasts.  Conforto is still developing his power, but still managed to hit 12 home runs in 91 games in the minors, nine more in 56 games after his promotion to the Mets and added another three in 12 postseason games.  (For all you kids out there, that's 24 HR in 159 games for the 22-year-old Conforto.)

So of course, being the inquisitive bear that I am, I looked back through my archives (you might call it to see how often the Mets have had three power-hitting outfielders at the same time.  My research surprised me almost as much as the Cespedes re-signing did.

The Mets have been in business for 54 seasons.  In that time, only 17 outfielders have ever produced a 20-HR campaign.  (To qualify as a Mets outfielder, the player had to have played at least half of his games in any of the three outfield positions.)  Having a pair of Mets outfielders produce 20 or more homers is even rarer in club annals, especially a pair that didn't have Darryl Strawberry as one of its members.

Prior to 1983, the Mets had never had two outfielders with 20+ homers in the same season.  But from 1983 to 1985, Strawberry and George Foster each reached the 20-homer mark.  Then, from 1987 to 1990, Strawberry and Kevin McReynolds produced 20 or more home runs in each of the four campaigns.  The only time in Mets history that two outfielders not named Darryl Strawberry joined forces to hit 20-plus homers in the same season was in 2004, when center fielder Mike Cameron (30 HR) and right fielder Richard Hidalgo (21 HR) turned the trick.  In fact, that 2004 campaign was the closest the Mets have ever come to having all three outfielders reach the 20-homer mark, as left fielder Cliff Floyd added 18 homers of his own.

Now let's just consider years in which the Mets had three outfielders hitting 15+ homers.  That total might not seem impressive, but it's a feat that's rarely been done by a trio of Mets outfielders.  Here's the tiny group of outfielders, listing the left fielder first, center fielder second and right fielder third.

  • 1965: Ron Swoboda (19 HR), Jim Hickman (15 HR), Johnny Lewis (15 HR)
  • 2000: Benny Agbayani (15 HR), Jay Payton (17 HR), Derek Bell (18 HR)
  • 2004: Cliff Floyd (18 HR), Mike Cameron (30 HR), Richard Hidalgo (21 HR)

That's it.  Only three Mets teams have produced an outfield in which all three players reached the not-so-lofty 15-homer plateau.  Over the years, the Mets have relied more on infielders (Howard Johnson, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Lucas Duda) and even catchers (Todd Hundley, Mike Piazza) to supply power than they have in their outfielders.

It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see the Conforto-Cespedes-Granderson trio becoming the fourth outfield threesome to bang out 15 homers apiece.  It also wouldn't be a shocker to see them become the first outfield combo in Mets history to each have 20 or more homers.  Conforto, Cespedes and Granderson could also combine to hit the most homers in one season by the team's primary three outfielders.

In 1987, the outfield trio of Strawberry (39 HR), McReynolds (29 HR) and Lenny Dykstra (10 HR) combined to produce 78 home runs, which is a team record for outfielders.  (Dykstra started 24 more games than fellow outfielder Mookie Wilson did in '87.)  The team's three main outfielders have produced 70 or more homers in only two other seasons, with both years involving the Straw Man and Big Mac.

The 1988 squad featured Strawberry once again clubbing 39 homers, while McReynolds hit 27 bombs and Dykstra jacked eight balls out of the park for a combined total of 74 homers.  Two years later, the Strawbery-McReynolds combo was joined by newcomer Daryl Boston, as the 1990 outfield saw left fielder McReynolds (24 HR), center fielder Boston (12 HR) and right fielder Strawberry (37 HR) combine for 73 home runs.

Other than the 1987, 1988 and 1990 clubs, no other Mets team has had its three primary starting outfielders surpass the 70-homer mark between them.  That could change in 2016 now that Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto will each be playing their first full years in New York.

Cespedes hit 35 homers during the entire 2015 regular season.  Conforto combined to hit 21 regular season homers between the minors and majors.  Granderson - the only one of the three outfielders to play the entire season in New York - had 26 homers of his own.

In 2016, the Mets could have a power-hitting outfield that has never been seen before in club annals.  Combine that with the best starting rotation in baseball and a much-improved bullpen and the outfield's home run total might not be the only thing making history for the Mets this upcoming season.

It's enough to make man or beast look forward to warm nights at Citi Field on the snowiest of winter days.

Who wouldn't wake to make snow angels the morning after Cespedes re-signs with the Mets?

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