Much like we saw earlier this month with the Baltimore Orioles and Chris Davis, the New York Mets have re-signed a big bat once considered all but gone in free agency.
With Winter Storm Jonas knocking on Manhattan's door, the Mets turned up the heat on Friday by agreeing to a three-year, $75 million deal with Yoenis Cespedes that includes an opt-out after the first year. Cespedes will earn $27.5 million in 2016. The average annual value of the deal ($25 million) ties the Cuban with Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Hamilton for the highest salary ever for an outfielder.
Cespedes was rumored to be seeking a six-year deal worth $22 million annually and while he doesn't receive the long-term guarantee, the annual take is greater.
The Washington Nationals and Orioles, prior to re-signing Davis, were also linked to Cespedes. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Cespedes turned down a five-year, $110 million offer from Washington that also included an opt-out after this coming season. While the Nationals' offer was more impressive, it reportedly included deferrals and was worth $3 million less on average.
The opt-out Cespedes received from the Mets will allow him to earn $27.5 million and hit the market for the second consecutive winter if he so chooses. Cespedes had stiff competition in Davis and Justin Upton, and to a lesser extent Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon, this offseason, not to mention all the top arms that were available. Jose Bautista, who is five years older, could be his lone competition in a down market next offseason.
All Cespedes needs to do is produce more like he did immediately after the Mets acquired him than he did late in the season.
The boost he provided the New York offense was unquestioned -- 3.5 runs per game and .363 OPS before the July 31 trade/5.4 runs per game and .794 OPS after -- but his three-month run with the club was really a tale of two stretches.
From his first game with the Mets on Aug. 1 to Sept. 14, Cespedes hit .309/.356/.691 with 17 home runs (188 plate appearances). Over his last 61 regular-season plate appearances, he hit .218/.279/.327 with no home runs, two RBIs and five times as many strikeouts (15) as walks (3).
Cespedes wasn't much better in the postseason as the Mets advanced to the World Series largely in spite of him. Over 56 plates appearances, he slashed .222/.232/.352. A less intimidating swing gave opposing pitchers the courage to attack Cespedes, who saw his on-base percentage drop drastically.
Some, but not all, of his issues at the plate can be traced to a left shoulder injury that carries significant controversy itself.
The Mets pulled Cespedes in Game 4 of the NLCS against the Chicago Cubs -- the series ended in a sweep -- with the injury. The controversy centered around a round of golf played on the morning of the series finale, but Terry Collins has insisted that the off-field activity had nothing to do with the shoulder issue.
Cespedes hit .150/.143/.150 with a single RBI over 21 plate appearances against the Kansas City Royals. The Mets scored nine runs in their lone win of the series and 10 total in their four defeats.
It would have been unfair to expect Cespedes to maintain the torrid stretch he enjoyed in August, but it's also unfair to only laud that portion of his 2015 season. He hit .293/.323/.506 with 18 home runs and 61 RBIs in 102 games as a member of the Tigers -- production that came before he turned 30 in October.
Upton is two years younger, but hit .251/.336/.454 with 26 homers and 81 runs batted in over a full season with the San Diego Padres. He received a six-year, $132.5 million deal from the Tigers. There are ballpark and defensive factors at play, but there is a comparison to be made.
Grade for Cespedes: A-
Cespedes will be one of baseball's highest-paid players in 2016 and earns high marks for the flexibility the opt-out clause provides him. If his skills decline prematurely, he will earn a total of $47.5 million over the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
If he produces as should be expected, he'll almost certainly test a down market with a good shot at landing the type of long-term deal he sought at the beginning of the offseason.
Grade for Mets: A+
With Cespedes back in the mix, the Mets are projected to have a payroll approaching $150 million -- a figure we haven't seen in several years. Open pockets alone are enough to make New York fans happy and now is the perfect time for Sandy Alderson to spend freely on offense with a young pitching staff locked into cheap, incredibly team-friendly contracts thanks to baseball's arcane salary structure.
It's also worth noting that the Mets and Cespedes' representatives had to appeal to Major League Baseball simply for the right to negotiate. As an international signee, his original contract allowed him to hit free agency two years before players are generally able to do so. The Mets technically released him after the postseason, which should have made him ineligible to be re-signed. However, Roc Nation Sports and the Mets petitioned with MLB and the MLBPA and the rule was waived.
Without a ruling that has flown under the radar, this deal is pure fantasy.