“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard.”
Mets GM Sandy Alderson took a cue from Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz today, discovering that what he had been looking for had been with him all along. Alderson’s Mets and star outfielder Yoenis Céspedes agreed to a four-year, $110 million dollar contract, replete with a no-trade clause, keeping the sports car-loving slugger in Queens through his age-34 season.
The Mets are keeping a very good player, if not a superstar, who immediately makes the much-maligned Jay Bruce expendable. Céspedes’s 2016 proved that his ascendant 2015, split between Detroit and New York, was no fluke: the outfielder hit .280/.354/.530 with 31 home runs and made his second All-Star appearance, though the Mets themselves floundered due to a spate of injuries to their precocious pitching staff. The deal appears exceedingly reasonable, then, for a club who looks to rebound in a rapidly changing NL East. The team surprised the league last offseason by re-signing Céspedes, despite repeatedly crying poor and licking their wounds in the wake of the Wilpons’ investment fallout with Bernie Madoff. By repeating the signing this winter, they seem to be poised for a return to their big market ways.
They are similarly poised to challenge for the division crown again in 2017, after 2016’s disappointing backpedal into a Wild Card game loss. They once again staved off the Nationals’ pursuit of Céspedes, the second time in two offseasons, and their lineup remains solid as their pitching staff rehabs. Among their companions in the NL East, the Phillies and Braves are still rebuilding, despite more interesting than expected offseasons, and the Marlins are flailing, as always. The Mets mid-term prospects are also fairly healthy, as the four guaranteed years may fall short of the worst parts of Céspedes’s inevitable decline in his mid-30s, a particular concern for a player with dubious on-base and defensive skills. In an increasingly polarized National League, the Mets have solidified their contender status while shelling out only money, and without taking on much long-term risk.
The slugger himself must also be pleased with the deal. The $27.5 million average annual value of the contract is the second-highest for a position player ever, trailing only Miguel Cabrera’s monster contract with the Tigers. Céspedes gambled on himself by not signing a long-term deal last offseason, and it paid handsomely, as the essentially one-year deal he had signed has turned into five years at $27.5 million per year, substantially better than the rumored offers he received last year from non-Mets teams. Céspedes hearts NY, and they heart him back. Now, he can probably afford a one-bedroom in Brooklyn. Probably.
The signing changes the landscape of the offseason considerably, even if it was somewhat anticipated. The Astros were reportedly the other players for Céspedes, and they’ll now wear their participation ribbon with pride as Jeff Luhnow tightens the strings on the club’s purse. The next-best outfielder available, Dexter Fowler, is sure to garner a four- or five-year deal, at $16-20 million per year, and Céspedes’s signing might push those numbers toward the upper end of the ranges. The pair of erstwhile Blue Jays hitting the free agent market, Edwin Encarnación and José Bautista, must be licking their lips as well.
Teams like the Rangers and White Sox, who have offensive holes that are most easily filled on the free agent market, missed out on a big bat, and this signing might trigger some interesting trades as a result. The aggressiveness of teams pursuing Andrew McCutchen, rumored to be available, amps up; J.D. Martinez becomes a more attractive option for other clubs. A team like Cleveland, looking for outfield depth, now faces more competition for players lower on the talent spectrum.
It’s a good deal for Céspedes, and it’s a good deal for the Mets. One of the league’s marquee franchises retains its best position player, and Mets fans rejoice. For Céspedes, there’s no place like home, and home is a corner outfield spot at Citi Field.