Because it’s the Mets, and they’ve infused us with an unhealthy dose of skepticism through the decades, we tried to find something sideways about Tuesday’s agreement with Yoenis Cespedes on a four-year, $110-million deal. There had to be one red flag, one trapdoor concession, right? Was it really possible that Sandy Alderson managed to get this wrapped up so neatly, and so quickly, all according to the original timetable he mapped out?
Rest easy, Mets Nation. From every angle, this deal appears to be a win-win for both sides, and also another encouraging development for the long-term future of the franchise. Seriously, what’s not to like? For the second straight winter, the Mets got their No. 1 target, using vastly different strategies that had the exact same successful result.
A year ago, Alderson and Co. slow-played the Cespedes market to a crawl, then swiped him from the Nationals in late January with a creative, opt-out contract that gave him a record single-year salary for an outfielder at $27.5 million. Cespedes’ camp was able to claim victory with that shiny number and the Mets, by thinking outside the box, didn’t have to make an extended commitment after renting him for three months.
Instead, they deferred to a full-season Flushing audition. And despite some static over Cespedes’ golfing on a bad wheel, the Mets definitely enjoyed the encore, keeping in mind that an intimidating, righthanded power bat of his caliber is a rare commodity these days. Though Cespedes had to be coy about the inevitable opt-out, it was a slam dunk almost from the moment he signed that first deal, and the Mets were fine with that.
What made this courtship more interesting the second time around — particularly among veteran Mets observers — was Alderson’s unabashed desire to get Cespedes back in blue-and-orange. From the final out of the wild-card loss to the Giants, through the GM meetings in early November, Alderson had no problem saying repeatedly that Cespedes was the club’s top target, and was even so bold as to put a deadline on negotiations: Dec. 8, the last day of baseball’s winter meetings in D.C.
The reason was straightforward. If Cespedes was going to be beyond the Mets’ financial reach, then Alderson had to move quickly on a Plan B. But the sense we got from the GM was he thought he wouldn’t need one. This time, it was the Mets — a team that had been on the sideline for too many winters — making the aggressive push for one of the biggest free-agent names, just like they used to. Essentially, the Mets again were behaving like the big-market squad they’re supposed to be.
So how did they do it? Doesn’t sound all that complicated. The Mets jumped out with an offer they could live with and Cespedes — if he was thinking clearly — couldn’t refuse. Once again, Cespedes’ $27.5 million AAV sets the bar for a position player, behind only Miguel Cabrera ($31M) among position players, and also a full no-trade clause, as reported by Newsday’s Marc Carig. This also erases any potential CBA-related jitters in Cespedes’ camp, but we don’t see a lockout happening, despite the recent saber-rattling.
From the Mets’ viewpoint, what’s not to love about a four-year contract? Better to pay out a higher AAV over a shorter term, and Cespedes will turn 35 in October 2020, coinciding with another NLCS appearance by the Mets. If that’s the case, this contract already feels worth it, and the timing also is critical. The Mets anticipate having control of their stellar young rotation through the life of the Cespedes contract, with the exception of Matt Harvey, who becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. No point in squandering those elite arms with a popgun offense, and now Alderson doesn’t have to spend the rest of this holiday season chasing a Cespedes replacement.
We just don’t see any downside here. Sure, Cespedes only gets older after pen hits paper, and he’s had his share of power-sapping aches and pains. For those worried about his golf obsession and lust for exotic automobiles, we can think of worse vices. As for the Mets, they just bought themselves an early victory lap, a winter full of back slaps and bouquet-tossing. Not to mention a spike in holiday ticket sales.
As long as Cespedes passes the physical, of course.
Cespedes has been a difference maker since the Mets acquired him at the trade deadline during the 2015 season:
Mets’ record with Cespedes in starting lineup
Mets’ record without Cespedes in starting lineup
Mets’ runs per game with Cespedes in starting lineup
Mets’ runs per game without Cespedes in starting lineup
Cespedes’ numbers with Mets: