Yoenis Cespedes changed the culture around the Mets in 2015. Adding him to the middle of the order changed everything and allowed the club to go on a fantastic run. He was a star player who helped carry the club.
At this year’s trade deadline, the Mets don’t need to find a Cespedes. They need to find their Donn Clendenon—the guy who came to the team in 1969 and went on to win the World Series MVP.
Searching for the 2021 Mets version of Donn Clendenon
First, what makes a player a Clendenon? A zero-time All-Star with some respectable numbers throughout his career, Clendenon was well short of the big acquisition you might expect could help put a team over the top. Productive for the Mets in the 1969 regular season, I think the best thing he brought to the team was a defined role.
Clendenon shared first base duties with Ed Kranepool that year. Capable of playing some outfield, he actually only played two innings as a left fielder for the 1969 team and never saw action anywhere else beyond the infield dirt.
The Mets definitely don’t need another first baseman. What they could use is a player capable of platooning. Ideally, a right-handed hitter.
The Mets haven’t gotten close to what we expected from multiple players this season. Many of the lefties, in particular, have had a rough time at the plate.
I don’t have a personal preference for the position this Clendenon-type would play. The outfield feels like the Mets are simply just looking to upgrade over Kevin Pillar—a guy we thought could be the right-handed option behind the three lefties. I’d be cool with doing so.
The other choice would be to find someone to pair with Jeff McNeil at second base. As much faith as I have in him to turn things around, the season is getting late. Time is running out for him to get things together.
Starting from the bottom of the league and moving to the top, there’s no true ideal fit for playing the Clendenon role. However, there is one player who might be a good middle-ground between Clendenon and Cespedes. Let’s go to Kansas City for the scoop.
How available is Whitt Merrifield of the Kansas City Royals?
Whitt Merrifield has been a guy many Mets fans have liked for a few years. I can’t blame them. He wasn’t a part of the 2015 team that defeated them in the World Series so there’s nothing to dislike him about.
Since making his MLB debut in 2016, he has hit a few points shy of .300 while consistently being in the .280s or higher. A stolen base fiend, he has led the league in this category twice already and is well on his way to doing so yet again in 2021.
Tremendous speed, solid gap-power with two 40+ doubles seasons, and good defense, Merrifield is a guy the Mets could have fun with. The problem: he’s not making much money at all.
Merrifield’s contract is paying him $6.75 million this year and has a base salary of $2.75 million next year with some incentives. Things don’t get high until 2023 when he has a team option worth $10.5 million. Even the lowly Royals can afford this. In order to snag him, the Mets would need to pay a big price.
Merrifield has spent a large part of his career showing off his versatility. Much like Jeff McNeil, second base is his primary position but he has also filled in at other spots. I can imagine a world where Merrifield plays every day for the Mets somewhere while solidifying the top of their lineup.
Sadly, I don’t find him to be a realistic name the Mets could acquire without completely blowing the Royals away.
There’s a similar sentiment about Ketel Marte of the Arizona Diamondbacks and a slightly less feeling for Adam Frazier of the Pittsburgh Pirates. These versatile fielders who can hit well are rare. It’s what has made McNeil a special player. The problem has been his inability to hit in 2021.
It’s easy to find a Cespedes at the trade deadline. A Clendenon takes much more research. Often, some luck is involved, too.
I’ve thought for weeks now that the Mets probably won’t make any huge splash at the trade deadline for a bat because of the lack of places they can fit in a position player when everyone is healthy. The club is nearing full health yet we still see the offense struggle regularly.
Somewhere out there is this team’s Clendenon; a platoon-type player past his prime with a clutch World Series performance in him just waiting to be unleashed.
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A final consideration: what if he’s already here and adding a big bat like Josh Donaldson then creates it? If someone like J.D. Davis moves to the bench and fills in as a third baseman and left fielder at times, wouldn’t he fit this definition? We’ll have to wait until the World Series to find out.