Keidel: Alonso Needs Cespedes, Help To Make Mets Primetime Team

By WFAN Sports Radio 101.9 FM/66AM New York

You may not know this, but Yoenis Cespedes is still a member of the Mets. It would be easy to forget since the gifted outfielder who carried the Mets to a 2015 World Series appearance has had his mail forwarded to the DL/IL since.

There's some truth to the sports cliche that the best ability is availability. You can't play, can't win, and can't be a member of your franchise from the trainer's table. Your teammates and coaches need to know that a star player is there for them, through the bad climes and bad times. They say you can't lose your job to injury. Just ask Wally Pipp about that. But you certainly can lose your place atop the totem pole if you don't play.

So it makes you wonder if Pete Alonso, the Mets' strapping rookie, has become the face of the franchise, at least among their position players. If not then he's at least become the most exciting, the one batter you stop what you're doing to watch. Alonso leads the team in homers (12), RBIs (32) and OPS (.948), and ranks third, seventh, and ninth in the NL in the same categories. All this despite a woeful last two weeks for the first baseman, who's swatted just eight hits over his last ten games, watching his batting average dip from .291 to .271.

The Mets and many fans were excited to see what the 24-year-old can do. And it feels proper to say he's met expectations, if not blown past them. His booming homers are already being measured by arc, speed, and distance. As the Mets plunged down the standings, and now have inched back up to one game below .500, Alonso has been the one offensive attraction on a team that ranks in the bottom half of the NL in every salient batting statistic.

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Not that the lineup has been the only tender spot on the roster. The Mets rotation hasn't pitched to the back of their baseball cards. No one expected Zack Wheeler to lead the club in innings pitched (49.2), for Noah Syndergaard to pitch to a 5.14 ERA, or for Jacob deGrom's ERA to swell about 1.5 runs higher than last year. Nor did we expect Steven Matz to pitch like the team's ace before he limped onto the IL.

But if we see their glass as half-full, the Mets are just four games behind the Phillies for first place in the NL East.  And while Cespedes was just placed on the 60-day injured list last week, it's just a formality, with the team knowing he would miss the first two months of the 2019 season after heel surgery. Cespedes has done some throwing and taken swings in a batting cage, though he hasn't been cleared to run.

Still, what happens when Cespedes, 33, returns? Fans have developed a modest disdain for him because he seems to have broken down shortly after he got his big money from the Mets. But he could return with a cinder block on his shoulder, ready to prove that he's the player we all projected him to be after his historic 2015.

Rookie GM Brodie Van Wagenen assured us that the Mets were the team to beat in the NL East. His eyes surely dwarfed his stomach when he made that declaration unless their homer-hitting rookie can team up with the All-Star veteran and make this summer worth watching.  

If the pitching rounds out to expected form, then it's on the lumber to lift the Mets up the standings. And they need way more hits from the rest of the lineup if they're to turn this tanker back around. But just as Cespedes showed us in '15 that one hot bat can spark a World Series run, two such bats can do some damage. The Mets have been buoyed by young, homegrown bats over the last 40 years, starting with Darryl Strawberry.

We don't know if Alonso is more Strawberry or more Greg Jeffries. But a team not used to long-term winning - like the Mets - needs a young star to sell to their fans, to potential free agents, and to themselves. Look what Aaron Judge did for the Yankees, who have already run through an army of iconic young players and would be plenty good without the hulking hitter. Judge made the Yankees must-see TV.

Pete Alonso looks like a primetime player. He just needs a little help to make the Mets a primetime team.

Twitter: @JasonKeidel