Yoenis Cespedes slipped on his familiar No. 52 Mets jersey, and in his first comments since what had appeared to be a far-fetched reunion at the start of an angst-filled winter, the slugger professed his desire to return since Day 1.
“I can say that from my first day when I came last season, that very first day, the fans showed incredible support,” Cespedes said on Wednesday during a packed Citi Field news conference. “My teammates were so welcoming as well as the whole Mets organization. From there, I just knew that I wanted to come back.”
The event carried all the choreographed pomp and circumstance of a stop on the campaign trail, complete with broad smiles for camera flashes, a stadium marquee that read “Got Yo Back,” and the rehashing of well-worn talking points, all seemingly designed to slap a neat and tidy bow onto the more hazy and complex factors that led to Cespedes signing a deal that ultimately fell below what he had been expected to fetch on the open market.
“Yes,” Cespedes said, “I’m very happy with what we got.”
Through a translator, Cespedes said he looked forward to staying with the Mets for the next three years, though his three-year, $75-million deal also contains a critical opt-out provision that he can exercise should he enjoy another big season in 2016.
He inferred that he left money on the table to return, though a reported five-year, $110-million offer from the Nationals contained deferments that brought its current value closer to the Mets’ bid.
“It’s important to keep in mind that it’s not always about the amount of money being offered,” he said. “It’s about wanting to be in a place that you want to play in, that you’re happy in. As you can see, this is just what happened in that case.”
Of course, the details of Cespedes’ return hardly dampened what became a major off-field victory for the Mets, who in one swoop appeased fans longing for a Cespedes return while also loosening their purse strings for the first time in five years.
As if there was a need to offer a reminder as to why fans clamored for Cespedes, the Mets kicked off the news conference with a highlight video of the slugger’s exploits with the Mets after his trade-deadline acquisition from the Tigers.
Seated to the right of chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, Cespedes cracked a smile at the conclusion of his well-documented highlight reel.
“It’s a great video,” general manager Sandy Alderson said. “I’m glad I didn’t see it before we got the deal done. My anxiety level would have been much higher.”
Then, Cespedes stepped to the podium, removed his tailored suit jacket and slipped on the uniform of the team that he helped lead to the National League pennant and their first World Series appearance since 2000.
The decision to stay, Cespedes said, was swayed by the pursuit of the franchise’s first championship since 1986.
“It was very important to me,” he said. “I think that for me, as well as my teammates and the whole Mets organization, we really want to finish what we started last year. So, that really factored in for me.”
Despite his drawn-out free agency, Cespedes said neither he nor his agents got “impatient or flustered.” Throughout the winter, he said he heard from Mets teammates, though none were more persistent in their efforts to sway him than reliever Hansel Robles.
Nevertheless, Cespedes said he experienced “a big relief” once his agent called to tell him that a deal with the Mets was done. Cespedes was behind the wheel at the time, driving on his property in Florida.
“I really pictured myself here,” Cespedes said. “I know that this team has everything that it needs to continue on with what we started last year.”
Yoenis Cespedes said money isn’t always the deciding factor, but his three-year, $75-million contract places him among the highest-paid players in baseball history, by average annual value:
1. Zack Greinke, $34,416,666 (2016-21)
2. Miguel Cabrera, $31,000,000 (2016-23)
David Price, $31,000,000 (2016-22)
4. Clayton Kershaw, $30,714,286 (2014-20)
5. Max Scherzer, $30,000,000 (2015-21)
6. Roger Clemens, $28,000,022 (2007)
7. Alex Rodriguez, $27,500,000 (2008-17)
8. Jon Lester, $25,833,333 (2015-20)
9. Justin Verlander, $25,714,286 (2013-19)
10. Alex Rodriguez, $25,200,000 (2001-10)
11. Yoenis Cespedes, $25,000,000 (2016-18)
Ryan Howard, $25,000,000 (2012-16)
Josh Hamilton, $25,000,000 (2013-17)
Felix Hernandez, $25,000,000 (2013-19)
Giancarlo Stanton, $25,000,000 (2015-27)
Source: Cot’s Baseball Contracts