David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
Maybe it had something to do with two borough presidents being in the audience for Wednesday’s news conference at Citi Field that Sandy Alderson skipped the fancy analytical stats when introducing Yoenis Cespedes — for a third time — wearing a Mets’ uniform.
On this occasion, Alderson kept it simple, in easily digestible terms that anyone who doesn’t scroll through Fangraphs over their morning coffee could understand. And after poring over the details for most of the past month with Yo’s reps, including CAA’s point man Brodie Van Wagenen, there was one number that stood out above the others in the GM’s mind.
“When Yoenis Cespedes plays for the Mets,” Alderson said, “the Mets win.”
Pretty basic stuff. By the team’s own accounting, the Mets are 30 games over .500 (109-79) when Cespedes has appeared in the lineup since July 31, 2015 — the day he was acquired from the Tigers roughly 10 minutes before the trade deadline. Back then, Cespedes was a two-month rental that turned into three when the Mets made their stunning October dash to the World Series.
And yet, Cespedes has not worn another jersey since, choosing to twice return to Flushing, thanks in large part to some serious big-market wooing from the Wilpons. The flamboyant Cespedes is more than a slugger who racks up numbers. He’s a legit gate attraction, with an oversized personality and a fence-busting swing that makes you put off that hot dog until he’s done at the plate. There’s plenty of sizzle, as Alderson likes to say, and the Mets are in the entertainment business, after all.
By ponying up the $110 million for Cespedes, however, the Mets stepped up from merely staging a baseball show to being committed to returning to the World Series. Or at least trying to get back. How many times in the past have we questioned that desire? When Alderson boiled everything down to winning with Cespedes or losing without him, it wasn’t hard to understand why the Mets didn’t hesitate to again reward Yo with the record average annual salary ($27.5 million) for an outfielder.
There really was no choice here. Whatever alternatives Alderson supposedly had up his sleeve never felt like an effective bluff. The Mets knew they had to have Cespedes back, and fortunately for them, Flushing was at the top of his list — with every place else a distant second. Within a week of talking contract figures, Cespedes was back home at Citi again, exactly where he wanted to be.
“It was something that needed to get done,” chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said. “And it got done.”
He’s right about that. Even if we leave the hyperventilating fan base out of this, give the Mets credit for recognizing the plain truth staring them in the face, wearing the neon armbands and the gold No. 52 jangling around its neck. Better to dig deep for a player who not only likes playing here, but already has proven he can perform here. It’s not a coincidence the Mets have made the playoffs twice since Cespedes arrived — and zero times in the nine years leading up to that red-letter date in franchise history.
What’s changed? The mindset that got Cespedes to Flushing in the first place, which was trading the team’s top pitching prospect, Michael Fulmer, for a chance at the NL East title. And that same attitude has continued since then, namely shelling out the dollars to keep the Mets in contention for at least the next four years. Wilpon knows a thing or two about headlines, so he declined to boldly label these Mets a World Series favorite. Nonetheless, they just re-upped their membership at that exclusive club with Cespedes’ return.
“When you get to a certain point, and your team is on the brink, you’ve got to take some risks financially and performance-wise,” Alderson said. “This is something we thought we could live with and, in fact, thought we needed to do.”
But Cespedes is a calculated gamble, having just turned 31 last month with a track record of producing in a high-pressure environment that has crushed many big-money signings before him. That’s not a bad bet. And as Alderson mentioned, history tells us it should be a winning one for the Mets.