By Brad Kallet
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According to WFAN baseball insider Jon Heyman, the slugger will opt out of the remaining two years and $47.5 million left on the contract he signed in January and test free agency in the hopes of landing a long-term deal for more money. Heyman reports that the Mets will still be in the running to sign the Cuban, although ESPN’s Adam Rubin has noted that general manager Sandy Alderson and his front-office team don’t expect him to be back next season.
Cespedes is seeking at least a five-year contract, according to Rubin.
You might remember that we went through this exact situation a year ago, and it was arduous. A free agent after the 2015 season, Cespedes waited … and waited … and waited … and waited. It seemed like there was absolutely no shot the Mets would re-sign him — Heyman went so far as to guarantee that it wouldn’t happen —but after Cespedes and his agent didn’t find any offers that they deemed suitable, Alderson worked out a shrewd deal with the two-time All-Star at the 11th hour.
The odds of it playing out like that again are slim to none. More than likely, Cespedes has played his last game as a New York Met.
After the 2015 season, I desperately wanted Alderson to re-sign Cespedes, and was elated when the deal got done. I shared that sentiment throughout 2016, up until the Mets lost to the Giants in the National League wild-card game. In fact, after the season officially concluded, I turned to my friend sitting next to me at the bar and said, “Bottom line, they need to bring Cespedes back.”
But a little less than a month later, having had time to let the season sink in and consider the future, my tune has changed a bit.
Yes, I’m still for the Mets re-signing Cespedes. But I must admit that I’m no longer convinced that it’s a no-brainer. It’s not as clear cut of a decision as it may seem.
Would Cespedes make the Mets a better team next season? Absolutely. Indisputably. Unequivocally. Just take this past season as an example. The Mets were one of the worst teams in baseball without Cespedes, who hit .280 with 31 homers and 86 RBIs. With him, they were a playoff team. He was a game changer, an imposing presence in the lineup, and he was mostly clutch. How many home runs did he hit in huge spots? Too many to count, and to remember. For the second year in a row, he was, simply put, incredible.
But then there’s the other side of the coin. He’s on the wrong side of 30, he’s very streaky, he takes plays off, he’s injury prone, and questions persist about his dedication. Yes, I’m in the camp that views his playing golf while rehabbing his quadriceps — and before big games like, I don’t know, the World Series — as inappropriate, disrespectful and reckless. We’ve also seen him hit poorly in the playoffs, looking downright overmatched against premier pitching. If the Royals and Indians have taught us anything these past two years, it’s that consistent contact hitters — not all-or-nothing mashers — win you championships.
As great as Cespedes can be, and as much fun as he is to watch, is this a guy that Alderson should give $150 million to?
Alderson deserves a world of credit for putting the betterment of the organization’s long-term over the short-sighted opportunity to get better right away. Rash decisions, without considering the consequences for the future, cost the Mets for many years, and Sandy’s propensity to see the big picture has clearly put this organization in a favorable position.
A mega-deal for Cespedes could come back to haunt the Mets, and let’s not forget that they still have Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom to pay. It’s unrealistic to think that they’ll keep all five of them, of course — they probably won’t want to — but they should be able to hold onto three. (It may have been a blessing in disguise that, aside from Syndergaard, all of their values went significantly down in 2015.)
Despite the injuries, I still believe in this pitching staff and what it could potentially accomplish, and keeping it as intact as possible is far more important than hanging on to a hitter who could get very old — and very undependable — very quickly.
Cespedes, in my estimation, will be the most attractive free agent on the market this winter. There will be competition for his services, however, as other right-handed sluggers—Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo and Jose Bautista, to name a few — will vie for big-money deals.
Ideally, the market dries up, Cespedes doesn’t get the deal he wants, and he returns to New York, where he reportedly loves playing, on a short-term contract. I don’t see it playing out that way — I get the feeling that general managers around the league won’t let him slip away a second consecutive time — but it remains a possibility.
Would I love to see Yo back in orange and blue next season? Of course.
But him leaving wouldn’t be the worst thing, either.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet