It was no surprise when news came down this week that Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will opt out of the three-year, $75 million dollar contract with the Mets after the World Series. According to his contract, he has three days after the final game of the World Series in order to do so. Both Cespedes and his agent and the Mets looked at his contract as a one-year deal unless something disastrous happened this past season, like an injury. He battled through a pesky quad injury but still hit .280 with 31 home runs and 86 RBI. He did his job and he made $27.5 million in order to do so.
When you take a look at the MLB free agents this offseason, Cespedes is the best offensive bat on the open market. He is 31 years old and in the prime of his career and has shown that he is able to handle the pressure and the expectations of a major market. That is a huge factor that is certainly hard to gauge unless a player has been through it. In 189 games with the Mets in the regular season, Cespedes has 48 home runs with 111 runs scored and 130 RBI. He has been really good and his presence in the lineup has made the job of others hitting in front or behind him a lot easier because they have benefited from seeing better pitches to hit.
Now, there has been a reluctance by the Mets and others to commit to Cespedes long-term. Whether you agree with that or not, that reluctance is real. After all, the market last offseason never developed for Cespedes and there is a real question what the market will be this offseason. The Mets did acquire Jay Bruce from the Reds this past summer and GM Sandy Alderson made it perfectly clear after the acquisition that part of the appeal of Bruce was the control the team had of the player past last season. It is a team option for $13 million with a $1 million buyout should they decide to part ways. He is insurance in case Cespedes is not part of the Mets in 2017.
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The problem that Cespedes represents is the headaches that come along with it. You certainly saw some red flags this past year with the golf and his decision not to celebrate with the team after they clinched a Wild Card berth in Philadelphia. Mets fans don’t want to hear about the headaches or the moodiness. That is the problem the Mets front office now faces, again. They might be hesitant about giving Cespedes a long-term contract, but they might be faced with no other choice. After all, the window to win is often cloaked in uncertainty. What seemed like a give in oftentimes is not. Who would have ever thought this past season that deGrom, Harvey and Matz would all undergo surgery and would no longer be part of the rotation at the end of the season? Who would have thought that Zack Wheeler would never pitch an inning on the major league level after dealing with setbacks as he tried to come back from Tommy John surgery? The Mets dealt with injury after injury to starting pitchers and position players and still were able to cement a playoff spot, however miniscule the nine extra innings of baseball now feel. They still were able to keep the momentum moving forward.
Even with all the questions this team faces this off-season around the diamond, they still look to build upon back-to-back playoff appearances. Can this front office deal with the blowback of letting their best offensive player reside in another city in 2017 and beyond? How will this lineup produce without their most dangerous hitter and the presence of Yoenis Cespedes? Cespedes was not the first choice of Sandy Alderson two summers ago when they acquired him from the Tigers, but he proved to be the right choice. Even with all the baggage that comes along with the player, can the Mets let the big right-handed bat that Cespedes represents leave Citi Field forever?
If the fans had their choice, the answer is clear and resounding. For the Mets, the answer to that question is not as cut and dry.
The Mets are a big-market team and should spend like a big-market team, but is the financial investment in Cespedes a smart move long term? The Mets fans don’t want to hear about three years from now, after all they have not celebrated a World Series title in 30 years. Their patience is paper-thin.
The more things change, the more things stay the same. It does seem like Groundhog Day, again.
It will be fascinating to see what the Mets next move is. The ball is in their court.