David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
“Sandy, I’ll jump in.”
The voice that suddenly spoke up during Wednesday’s conference call belonged to Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer and a person rarely heard from in the public forum. But signing someone like Yoenis Cespedes, to a three-year, $75 million contract, amounts to a very special occasion in Flushing. And with both Sandy Alderson and Cespedes’ lead agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, heaping praise on Wilpon for his pivotal role in closing the deal, why not break the silence?
“We had a plan,” Wilpon said, “and Sandy and his team executed on that plan. My job is to support that. The fact that a player of his magnitude wanted to be a New York Met, we’re a destination now where players want to be. I think this is the biggest testament. And obviously the fans coming out to see him, and supporting us, has something to do with it as well.”ColumnLennon: Mets fans have reasons to be excitedColumnLennon: Mets have made a loud statement FacebookLike Newsday Sports on Facebook
We don’t doubt that Cespedes enjoyed his time in New York. Aside from John Rocker, who wouldn’t? But let’s not forget the sizable cash component to this contract, along with the creative financing plan. Cespedes doesn’t end up back at his beloved Citi Field without being paid $27.5 million this year — and the ability to opt-out after this season.
Cespedes also gets $10 million of that in an upfront bonus, a source confirmed Wednesday, leaving him with a $17.5 million salary for 2016. But that still awards Cespedes with the highest-ever average annual value (AAV) for outfielders and second only to the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera ($31 million) among position players.
In other words, Cespedes doesn’t return unless someone writes a few extremely large checks. And if you asked us two weeks ago, we’d never have predicted it would be the Mets, even on a manageable three-year deal. Not at record-setting numbers. Like you, we had been conditioned to accept Alderson’s thrifty ways, to believe that elite free agents were for other teams to enjoy. That Alejandro De Aza was a perfectly fine centerfielder.
So what happened? Was it the Nationals’ 11th-hour recruiting of Cespedes? The relentless lobbying by callers to WFAN? Wilpon denied those were major factors, but did say later in an e-mail that “Mets fans are among the most passionate in all of sports” and added “it’s great they’re as excited as we are about the season ahead.”
Safe to say, he noticed the outcry. Ultimately, the Mets came to the realization they couldn’t let Cespedes slip away — not after he had boomeranged right back to them, on their terms.
“Sandy’s patience and conviction were instrumental throughout the process,” Van Wagenen said. “And Jeff’s willingness to push this deal to the finish line is a testament to the Wilpon family’s commitment to giving Mets fans the championship-caliber team they deserve.”
During Wednesday’s conference call, Alderson recounted a few of his conversations with Van Wagenen, including one where Cespedes’ agent asked him if the Mets “were in it to win it” for his client. Alderson assured him they were, and that alone suggests a different business model for the Mets — an aggressive, confident approach backed by the resources to seize what they want.
Last season, the Mets proved what they’re capable of on the field. This winter, they showed us what they’re prepared to do as the defending NL champs, and that includes opening the checkbook. The Mets already had made a number of important upgrades, but as Alderson mentioned Wednesday, their offseason lacked “sizzle” before signing Cespedes.
Kudos to upper management for finally understanding the importance of that. This is the entertainment industry, after all. And with Cespedes in the middle of the Mets’ lineup again, the franchise added a charismatic difference-maker that moves the needle.
“We knew that the fan base would be happy with this,” Wilpon said. “But it had to make business sense and had to be part of the plan to bring somebody like this back.”
Wilpon was there last season. He saw what Citi Field was like during Cespedes’ reign of terror on opposing pitchers. For all the pragmatic talk of budgets and payroll caps, Cespedes is worth adjusting the “plan” by a few million bucks.
“You always like to under-promise and over-produce,” Alderson said.
Bottom line, with Cespedes, the Mets delivered.