Ask many Mets fans why they want Yoenis Cespedes back and they say that they don't want to see the team's offense crater back to its June- and July-level ineptitude. It's true, the Mets' offense was woeful for a long stretch of 2015. It's also true that after the Mets acquired Cespedes from the Tigers on July 31, the offense exploded and helped drive the team to a division title and nearly all the way through October to a World Series championship. There's no doubting that Cespedes was a large part of that run, but was he all of it?
Looking back to Opening Day 2015, the Mets' floor was low, and they dropped to it during June and July due to a combination of injuries, bad players playing badly, and poorly-timed slumps. It appears this offseason that the Mets have made moves to raise that floor with veteran acquisitions who will prevent Quad-A types from sucking up at-bats. It's not the most exciting strategy, but it's one that should help guard against the types of months that you'll read about below.
First, let's take a look back at the offense during June and July 2015 just to show how low their floor was. I took the liberty of highlighting the below average offensive performers by wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) in green for June and July. In the picture below that, you'll find the combined offensive numbers of the green highlighted players each month.
Combined June totals of 8 highlighted players
Yikes, the Mets put on a clinic of awful hitting in June. Curtis Granderson was essentially the entire Mets' offense that month, which makes it seem like it's almost a miracle that they managed to go 12-15 in the month. With eight of the top nine players in plate appearances below league average, that group combined for 656 plate appearances of 67 wRC+ ball. For a frame of reference here, just four qualified position players in MLB finished the regular season with a wRC+ of 67 or below in 2015: Alcides Escobar, Wilson Ramos, Jean Segura, and Chris Owings.
Combined July totals of 5 highlighted players
July was better in that the Mets were just plain bad instead of shockingly awful. As you can see above, five position players were below average, though they were all among the tops seven in plate appearances. Furthermore, Lucas Duda ended up slightly above average overall for the month, but that was mostly on the back of the eight home runs he hit. That's obviously useful, but his .178 average and .260 on base percentage took away from that over the month.
2016: Don't forget Wright and d'Arnaud
Looking at this in the context of 2016, you'll immediately notice the Mets got 37 plate appearances combined from Travis d'Arnaud over those two months and zero from David Wright. The return of d'Arnaud on July 31 was an immediate upgrade over what Kevin Plawecki had given the Mets, as d'Arnaud hit .256/.340/.464 from then through the end of the year—and that's likely to be the case next season. We also know that Wright could be compromised with his back going forward, but he still hit .277/.381/.437 after his return in late August, which is far better than what the Mets received in his absence. Hoping for improved health from d'Arnaud and Wright isn't an exciting strategy, but it's a necessary one given the Mets' commitments to each player.
What many seem to forget is that a confluence of events improved the Mets' offense. Not only did the Mets acquire Cespedes, but days before, they acquired Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson, promoted Michael Conforto, and eventually got back d'Arnaud and Wright. All of this helped to raise the offense's floor and Cespedes's barrage mostly pushed them into the upper echelon of teams.
With Conforto taking Michael Cuddyer's at-bats, Neil Walker taking Daniel Murphy's, Asdrubal Cabrera hopefully eating up some of the Wilmer Flores/Ruben Tejada at-bats, Alejandro De Aza stealing Juan Lagares' at-bats against righties, and d'Arnaud & Wright hopefully playing more, there are clear chances for improved offense. Additionally, the signing of Cabrera gives the Mets more depth to cover for a Wright injury. If Cabrera or Walker need to shift over to third base for a period of time, they can fill the hole in the starting lineup with more palatable options like Flores, Tejada, or even Dilson Herrera.
It's not the most exciting thing to think about in December, but anything that keeps the team from giving large swaths of at bats to Quad-A types in May, June, and July 2016 is a step forward from 2015.
The big question is whether or not there's potential upside on the current club similar to what Cespedes provided to the team down the stretch. Michael Conforto probably best represents that opportunity, though there's risk given his relative inexperience. Perhaps Lucas Duda takes a step forward into a more complete hitter, Asdrubal Cabrera turns back the clock a few years, or Wright and d'Arnaud have healthy seasons? Maybe it's a number of steps forward from multiple players. The Mets' offense as is doesn't appear bad—it's probably comfortably middle of the pack. It's just not looking like a top of the league group, and it feels like it's missing that big bat in the middle.
The ideal hope is that the Mets reside in that upper echelon offensively in 2016 and beyond, and that's why I personally want Cespedes to return. However, it doesn't appear the organization is willing to make that happen. This offseason hasn't been sexy or particularly exciting for the Mets, but they've made enough moves to raise the floor of the offense. With their pitching and a weak National League East, that should be enough to equal a playoff contender. It might just be more along the lines of a 90-win team rather than a 100-win team.