As soon as T.J. Rivera’s fly ball landed in Denard Span’s glove late Wednesday night, the attention immediately turned to what’s next for the Mets. At the top of that list is Yoenis Cespedes’ future in Flushing.
Cespedes didn’t officially address the topic after the game, informing the team’s translator that he wouldn’t be taking questions from the media. When later told by Newsday’s Marc Carig that many people want him back with the Mets for 2017 and possibly beyond, Cespedes did say, “Me, too.”
There’s a lot packed into those two words, of course. Cespedes singlehandedly could rubber-stamp his return by choosing not to opt out of his current deal, which paid him $27.5 million this season and has two years and $47.7 million left. But that’s not gonna happen. Not after staying mostly healthy this season, playing 132 games and hitting 31 home runs.
Those opt-out years were added as insurance to allow Cespedes to hedge against poor performance, or a debilitating injury, that might greatly diminish his value on the relatively weak free-agent market this offseason. So the Mets fully expect Cespedes to choose free agency when the filing period begins after the World Series, and Sandy Alderson & Co. will be right back where they started with him last November.
But perhaps with a slight advantage this time. The Mets actually feel better about their chances of bringing back Cespedes than they did a year ago, but we wouldn’t characterize it as confidence. Closer to a coin flip.
Cespedes definitely felt comfortable with the Mets over a full season, and he appears to mesh well with a number of teammates who should be back, notably Jose Reyes. Having a few friends in the clubhouse rarely closes sizable gaps in contract offers, but Cespedes’ camp was willing to get creative with the money last offseason when the demand for him didn’t materialize as anticipated. It’s possible that strategy could work again, but only under the ideal circumstances.
Last year, Cespedes’ primary competition in the outfield category was Jason Heyward (eight years, $184 million), Justin Upton (six years, $132.75 million) and Alex Gordon (four years, $72 million). This offseason? As far as power-hitting outfielders go, it’s pretty much Jose Bautista and Mark Trumbo.
It’s simple economics. The scarcity in supply works heavily in Cespedes’ favor. He also turns 31 later this month, and after struggling with a right quadriceps issue for half this season, he could find the prospect of getting some DH time with an AL club appealing.
One team that keeps getting mentioned in scouting circles is the Giants, who ranked 28th in home runs (130) and 25th in slugging percentage (.398). They also will have a vacancy in leftfield — Angel Pagan will be a free agent — and the willingness to spend big. Last offseason, the Giants invested $251 million in three players: Johnny Cueto (six years, $130 million), Jeff Samardzija (five years, $90 million) and Span (three years, $31 million).
That’s the Mets’ greatest fear as far as re-signing Cespedes: that a team such as the Giants will flex whatever financial muscle it requires to get a deal done. Should it come down to that, the Mets don’t sound as if they have the appetite for a bidding war. Alderson prefers to stay with shorter-term deals, and Mets ownership was fine giving Cespedes $27.5 million guaranteed — a single-season record for an outfielder — to be on the hook for a three-year max.
The Mets’ trade for Jay Bruce, with his $13-million option for ’17 set to be picked up, was designed to give them some coverage if Cespedes didn’t return. Ideally, they’d like to have them both as a left-right power tandem in the middle of their lineup, and Bruce’s late-September resurgence made the Mets feel a little better about the concept. Cespedes, however, dipped noticeably down the stretch, batting .203 (14-for-69) with one home run in the final 18 games. He went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts Wednesday night against Madison Bumgarner.
“I think he’ll be back,” Jeurys Familia said. “I don’t know what he wants to do because he has his agent. But I think he’ll be back because he loves to play here.”
Pretty soon, we’ll find out precisely how much the Mets love him, too.