SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Mets are taking a more proactive approach with Yoenis Cespedes this offseason, a noticeable departure from the laissez-faire stance of a year ago, and it appears that the tenor-changing shift may be generating more early optimism for a reunion.
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson met with Cespedes’ representatives Wednesday afternoon, the latest in what’s expected to be a series of conversations as the Mets step up their efforts to retain perhaps the most important player in their lineup.
“I think it’s just touch base, keep communicating,” Alderson said Wednesday before meeting with agent Brodie Van Wagenen. “They might learn something, we might learn something. But the important thing is to keep a line of communication open. The easiest way to do that is to have frequent conversations, periodic conversations.”
The dialogue is hardly a guarantee that Cespedes returns, or that talks move at a quicker pace, with the Mets hoping for a resolution before the end of the winter meetings. But it is a marked change in approach from last winter, when the Mets took a wait-and-see approach, while expressing skepticism from the start about bringing back Cespedes because he was expected to attract a megadeal on the open market.
Not until January, when it became clear that such a deal would not be reached, did the Mets seem more aggressive in their pursuit. The sides ultimately hashed out a three-year, $75-million contract that included the opt-out clause that brought Cespedes back into the free-agent market this winter.
That surprise reunion worked out for both sides. Again, Cespedes is regarded as one of the top free-agent bats available. The 31-year-old hit .280 with 31 homers and 86 RBIs in the middle of a lefty-heavy Mets lineup that badly needs his righthanded presence.
Despite a market that could be competitive, Alderson has been public about the Mets’ intent to make a play for Cespedes.
The Yankees have acknowledged exploring the possibility of bringing in Cespedes, who could command a four- or five-year deal worth in the range of $25 million annually.
“He’s a nice bat in anybody’s lineup, a very impactful defender and a tremendous bat,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “Some things might make more sense than others, but we’re going to get access to all the medicals on all the players and then as our trade discussions continue, it might open up some opportunities for us to pursue other avenues, but we’ll see.”
Cashman downplayed reports about seeking out Van Wagenen. “I don’t know if reached out would be accurate, I think I passed him [on the property],” Cashman said. “I’ve run into most of the agents walking to and from the hotel lobby and stuff.”
Alderson also made use of the proximity of player representatives, meeting with the agents for second baseman Neil Walker. The free agent has until Monday to decide whether he will accept the Mets’ one-year qualifying offer of $17.2 million.
“Nothing asked, nothing offered,” Alderson said of the meeting, which he deemed preliminary.
The Mets have not ruled out a multiyear deal with Walker, who hit .282 and tied a career high with 23 home runs before his season ended in early September when he underwent back surgery.
“We’ll see,” Alderson said. “Again, I can’t forecast the direction it’s going to take. We’ll know more when we get closer to his deadline.”
Walker may opt to accept the offer, which also would sit well for the Mets.
“Clubs may differ on this concept, but one-year deals for free agents at a slight premium might be a better idea than multi-year deals at less of a premium,” Alderson said. “That’s the way I look at it.”
While Walker’s situation plays out, the Mets hope to make progress with Cespedes, whose fate looms as the largest issue facing them as they get into the teeth of the offseason. For now, by establishing an open dialogue, it seems the Mets have taken an encouraging first step.
With Erik Boland