Yoenis Cespedes is worth the headache for the Mets

If Yoenis Cespedes weren’t absolutely indispensable to the Mets, you could make a case that they’d be better off letting him exercise his opt-out clause and go play elsewhere.

For one thing, Wednesday night was a reminder of what scouts always say, that he’s vulnerable to the high fastball, that he doesn’t fare well against elite pitching.

We saw it last October to some extent, when he went cold, especially in the World Series. And then in the wild-card game against the Giants, Madison Bumgarner did a masterful job of tempting Cespedes with high heat, getting him to chase all night just above the strike zone, twice for strikeouts, twice for pop-ups.

Then there is the diva behavior that causes many an eye-roll around the Mets. A couple of recent examples: upset at going 0-for-4 and getting tossed by the home plate umpire, he refused to join his teammates in their champagne celebration last Saturday in Philadelphia.

“That could not have played well with the group,” a former long-time major leaguer, who didn’t want to be named, said on Thursday. “I’ve been in those celebrations, and what you’re celebrating is the bond you’ve formed by grinding through seven, eight months together, going all the way back to spring training.

“To me, that’s a flat-out insult to your teammates. You’re going to sit in the trainer’s room or somewhere and pout about your 0-fer? I’d be surprised if somebody in that clubhouse didn’t call him out on that. But if no one did, it tells me there’s not much of a relationship there.”

The following day, for what it’s worth, Cespedes told the media he didn’t participate because he wanted to wait until the Mets accomplished more by winning the wild-card game.

And then there was the Mets’ 10-3 win in Atlanta on September 11, when Cespedes hit a grand slam but wouldn’t talk to the media afterward.

The reason? A source said he was angry that, when Terry Collins began resting a few of the starters with a big lead in the late innings, Cespedes wasn’t the first player the manager asked about coming out of the game. He apparently felt he had earned that right.

Ok, so we know Cespedes isn’t the most selfless of teammates or an easy guy to manage. And he hasn’t been Mr. October so far for the Mets.

Yet none of that is enough to even think about letting Cespedes leave, via his opt-out clause. Some guys are just worth the headache.

If you watched the games all season, you know how desperately the Mets need the Cuban slugger’s bat to put some teeth in an offense that was unbelievably bad in the clutch.

The Mets may have traded for Jay Bruce at least partially as insurance against Cespedes leaving, but even his late-season hot streak doesn’t erase the questions his six-week slump raised about whether he can thrive in New York, especially if he’s in the glare of the spotlight as the main man in the lineup.

We know by now that Cespedes seems to love the big New York stage and has a flair for delivering in the big moment — in the regular season, anyway.

He’s also the only real source of righthanded power in a lineup that features so many lefthanded hitters.

Finally, he has the aura of a superstar whose at-bats are must-see moments, and the fans can’t get enough of the guy.

So while the Mets may still be leery of giving Cespedes a long-term deal, fearful of minimizing his motivation, they have to know that some team surely will this off-season, when he would be perhaps the premier talent in a fairly thin free-agent class.

And after Travis d’Arnaud and Michael Conforto each took a significant step backward in 2016, while Lucas Duda’s back problems are an ongoing concern, the Mets just don’t have enough sure things in their lineup to be serious about trying to win a championship without Cespedes.

Yoenis Cespedes.

Yoenis Cespedes.

(John Minchillo/AP)

If they bring him back, however, there is every reason to believe it could be their year. You have to think they’ll be luckier with the pitching injuries, that Matt Harvey and Jacob deGrom will return to elite status after a long winter of post-surgical rest.

You have to worry more about Steven Matz’s injury history and how Zack Wheeler will pitch after missing two full seasons following Tommy John surgery, but the Mets found out they have legitimate depth in Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo.

Noah Syndergaard, meanwhile, cemented his status as an ace by overmatching the Giants for seven innings in his duel with Bumgarner on Wednesday night, so there is plenty of hope the Mets’ starting rotation can still be among the best ever.

And for a mere $8 million or so, it would be worth bringing back Bartolo Colon and his rubber arm, even at age 44, as insurance against more injuries.

Around the diamond there are plenty of questions to be answered, but most of them hinge on whether Cespedes returns.

If he does then it makes sense to try and trade Bruce and his $13 million option next season, perhaps for a catcher now that d’Arnaud is no longer the obvious answer.

After all, it’s imperative the Mets open a spot again for Conforto, who has too much talent not to bounce back from his sophomore slump.

Even if Cespedes is back and Bruce is gone, the outfield is a bit crowded. The Mets don’t want to have to again put Curtis Granderson in center field — even if he plays better than expected there, and even after making that sensational catch in the wild-card game.

Some in the organization want to try Conforto at first base, but it doesn’t seem they’re ready to give up on Duda there either.

Maybe Neil Walker, coming off of back surgery, will accept the qualifying offer the Mets are expected to give him. If not, well, T.J. Rivera and Wilmer Flores are solid options at second, and the Mets can live without Walker’s power if Cespedes is in the fold.

Yes, it all revolves around the Cuban slugger, which is why the Mets ought to be trying to head off his opt-out potential by offering to extend the remaining two years on his contract with another three years at, say, $60 million.

That plus the $75 million on his original deal would put him in the range of what he wanted last winter, or about what Justin Upton received from the Tigers.

All indications are the Mets instead will try to work out another short-term deal, perhaps with another opt-out. But at age 31, Cespedes probably wants to make his big score now, especially after another strong year.

GM Sandy Alderson played it right last winter, as it turned out, but he also got a little lucky. He shouldn’t count on that again.

After all, fans are filling the seats at Citi Field again, and even amidst the disappointment of the wild-card loss, there is great anticipation about the Mets being re-armed with healthy pitching in 2017.

Pay Cespedes to stay and the pieces could all be in place. He’s worth the headache.

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yoenis cespedes
new york mets
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