SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Whether he stays or goes, the Mets’ entire offseason will revolve around slugger Yoenis Cespedes, who could impact every major decision that general manager Sandy Alderson makes from now until Opening Day.
In his first public comments in more than a month, Alderson made it clear on the eve of the general managers’ meetings here Monday night that the Mets want to keep Cespedes. But Alderson acknowledged walking a tricky line between trying to keep Cespedes and preparing for the possibility that he might not return.
“You need to have a variety of things in the mix,” he said.
Cespedes is expected to command at least a four-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $100 million, a hefty commitment for a franchise that generally has shied away from megadeals. But Alderson has had at least one preliminary meeting with Cespedes’ representatives and expects more as free agency heats up.
No proposals were exchanged, but Alderson said he made the Mets’ interest clear.
“I wouldn’t have indicated our interest in having him back if I didn’t feel that we had the resources to make that possible,” Alderson said.
Aside from David Wright, who already was under team control, the largest contract Alderson has given out during his Mets tenure is Curtis Granderson’s four-year, $60-million deal. That likely will get dwarfed by Cespedes, who is considered the top hitter on the free-agent market.
“I don’t think that we have any absolute parameters,” Alderson said of a potential deal with Cespedes, the anchor of a Mets lineup that would be radically altered without him.
Cespedes, 31, had a slash line of .280/.354/.530, 31 homers and 86 RBIs in 132 games for the Mets. He has expressed a fondness for New York and endeared himself to fans when he propelled the Mets to the World Series after arriving in a deadline-day trade in 2015.
But in a market that is not deep in impact hitters, Cespedes will be in demand, part of the reason that he opted out of a three-year, $75-million deal he signed late last winter that paid him $27.5 million this year.
Alderson said Cespedes’ agents expressed interest in exploring a deal before he reached free agency, but the GM said a resolution was unlikely to be reached before the end of the World Series. Now Cespedes is set to enter the open market.
The Mets extended Cespedes a $17.2-million qualifying offer Monday, which he will decline to test the waters. With the Mets needing to plan for contingencies in case they lose the biggest bat in the lineup, Alderson hopes to know Cespedes’ fate by the end of the winter meetings next month, though it’s possible that the process will drag deeper into the offseason.
“Things will probably have to resolve themselves a lot sooner than they did last year,” Alderson said. “But that’s hard to predict where things could go. Things could go quickly, things could linger.”
Theoretically, the Mets could replace Cespedes by signing another impact hitter such as free-agent outfielder Jose Bautista. They could turn to the trade market; the Tigers’ J.D. Martinez is believed to be available. Either would give the Mets a needed righthanded-hitting presence.
But the uncertainty surrounding Cespedes could force the Mets into more creative solutions, such as bolstering the team in several different areas. In that case, the fate of second baseman Neil Walker could loom large.
The Mets gave Walker a qualifying offer Monday, a sign that they are confident that he will bounce back from season-ending back surgery. Alderson also said he is interested in exploring a long-term deal with the switch-hitting free agent.
“Having a certain number of variables makes us think a little bit harder about the options,” Alderson said. “When we’re more expansive that way and thinking about a variety of different approaches and being a little more creative, it can be helpful.”
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