By Brad Kallet
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In late October, I wrote that I understood why Mets general manager Sandy Alderson might be wary of breaking the bank for Yoenis Cespedes. Predictably, I was ridiculed to no end by loyal Cespedes fans.
But, if I may defend myself here for a second, I made it clear in the piece that I wanted the Cuban back — at the right price, and in the right deal.
Well, Alderson hit the bull’s-eye last week. He got his man for $110 million as opposed to $150 million, and netted him for four years as opposed to five, or even seven.
So let me be clear, here, and go on the record: I’m thrilled, under these circumstances, that the Mets re-signed Cespedes.
This deal was meaningful for a whole host of reasons, not simply because Cespedes is an all-world talent and one of the best baseball players on the planet. There’s symbolism at play here, and when you dig a bit deeper below the surface, you’re reminded just how much of a victory this was for the organization.
Let’s break down what this four-year, $110 million deal signifies.
The Mets will be World Series contenders for at least two more years, and perhaps four: Cespedes should have at least two more big years left, and with him anchoring the lineup, and the starting rotation of Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz protected until 2019, this team will have enough firepower to win its first championship since 1986. The window has just been extended.
Alderson & Co. want to win, now: For much of Alderson’s tenure, he waited … and waited … and waited, patiently building a roster that could contend for the long haul. Then he got aggressive at the 2015 trade deadline and acquired Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Cespedes, Tyler Clippard and Addison Reed. He re-signed Cespedes in 2015 and brought in Neil Walker, traded for Jay Bruce at the 2016 deadline and then re-signed Cespedes and Walker again. Sandy is clearly retooling rather than rebuilding or focusing on five years down the road. After two consecutive postseason appearances, it’s obvious that he wants his Mets legacy to include a World Series title.
The great Cespedes drama ends, finally: How many more times could we endure the possibility that we are witnessing Cespedes’ last at-bat in a Mets uniform? I don’t think I’m alone in rejoicing that that narrative is over — at least for four more years.
After the 2015 season concluded, there was no chance that Cespedes was going to return to the Mets. Then he did. Then, all throughout 2016, we agonized over whether the two-time All-Star was going to opt out of this three-year deal. When he did, many presumed that the Cespedes era, once again, was probably over. It wasn’t, and it’s not going to be any time soon. Cespedes is here to stay. Unless he retires, his no-trade clause guarantees that he’ll be a Met until at least 2020.
Let’s talk about something else.
The Wilpons have officially shed the cheap and frugal labels: For years, in their post-Madoff state, Fred and Jeff were accused of not spending to improve the on-field product. The criticism was fair, and I was at the forefront of it. But after giving Cespedes $110 million — the $27.5 million average annual value is the second-highest for a position player, behind only Miguel Cabrera’s $31 million — it’s time to stop accusing the organization of not doing enough financially to win. I’m not saying that they can spend as much as they used to — only the Wilpons, Saul Katz, their lawyers and their accountants know if they can — but you don’t need to be an economist to know that the restrictions are not nearly what they used to be.
Queens is again a destination for big-name talent: For large pockets of this franchise’s history, winning players haven’t wanted to come to the Mets. This organization had the reputation of being a perennial loser, the little brother in the shadow of the flashy, sexy, legendary Yankees across town. It didn’t help, of course, that the Wilpons weren’t willing to spend as much as George Steinbrenner.
For a good five years, from about 2010 to mid-2015, the Mets were at the bottom of the list of desirable teams to sign with, despite playing in New York. That stigma is no more. Cespedes could have gotten more money last year, but he chose to come back because he loved playing for this team in this city, and he knew he had a chance to win. He probably could have made more money again this offseason had he waited longer, but, again, he knew he wanted to be a Met.
The same is true for Walker, who almost certainly would have gotten more than $17.2 million had he tested the open market. It’s a good optic for the team, and it should lead to more success in the front office and, subsequently, on the field moving forward.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet