Yoenis Cespedes will be returning to the Mets after all. Months and weeks of speculation, rumors, and even conventional wisdom had the left fielder leaving New York City for much richer pastors. Heck, Cespedes was demanding a long-term contract in the neighborhood of $22 - $25 million per season. The cash strapped Mets with all of their financial ills were considered a long shot to keep him.
Yet mere hours before snowstorm Jonas bore down on New York City, the Mets and Cespedes came to terms on a three-year contract that will pay him $75 million with an opt out clause after just one year.
Such a deal leaves a lot of questions: Do Mets fans owe the Wilpon’s an apology? Is this a sign the Mets financial ills aren’t as bad as it once seemed? Why did Cespedes take less to stay in New York? And, what is with this opt out clause?
This deal makes perfect sense for both sides. For the Mets, they keep a prolific hitter in the middle of their line-up who will undoubtedly make New York one of the favorites to represent the National League in next year’s World Series.
Let’s be honest the Mets are better off with Cespedes than without him. Before Cespedes arrived on scene the Mets were 53-50, averaging only 3.5 runs per-game, which was the worst in the National League. Over the final 59 games of the year with Cespedes pounding 17 home runs and driving in over 40 runs, the Mets won 37 games and averaged 5.4 runs per game, the best in the National League. With all the great pitching that the Mets do have, were it not for the efforts of Cespedes the Mets don’t even make the playoffs in 2015.
Having him in the lineup takes tremendous pressure off David Wright; it also prevents Terry Collins from having to depend on the shaky duo of Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza platooning in center field. In addition, Curtis Granderson could also take some days off on his aging legs and allow Cespedes to play some right field from time to time.
For Cespedes he gets to stay in a city that he really liked playing in. He fell in love with the Mets ‘team first’ clubhouse, and he became an instant favorite amongst the fan base. Players who crave the spotlight, the pressure moment succeed in New York, and Cespedes is sending a message that he does see himself as a prime time player. In addition, considering that Cespedes has spent so much time traveling from team to team over the past four years, he wanted to have some stability and staying with the Mets for at least one more year trumps going to his fifth team in five years.
Do the Wilpon’s deserve a fullscale apology? Not totally. While the deal quiets talk about the Mets past financial woes, (this contract puts the team at $140 million for 2016), the Mets could have matched that five-year offer from the Nationals and chose not to; instead the Mets put themselves in the uncomfortable spot of possibly losing Cespedes after this season.
Cespedes still owns all the cards at the table. He has a perfect deal. If he likes playing in New York City for the Mets he can opt into the final two years of his contract and not be a free agent again until he’s 33 years old, just one year past a baseball players prime. If he has a monster campaign in 2016 and feels he can make even more money, he will opt out of that contract, still be in his prime, and will reap the rewards as the best outfielder on the market in 2017.
This is a tricky gamble the Mets are playing, but they are hoping that it works out for them this season. By signing Cespedes to one guaranteed year they are putting their chips into the middle for an “all or nothing 2016.” The question will linger all year whether they can convince him to stay beyond the 2016 season, and I think they can, if they sit down with Cespedes at the end of this year, rip up his three year deal and finally reward him with a four year contract that pays.
Until then however, lets sit back and enjoy the fact that the Mets will have at least 162 games of Cespedes for the rest of us.