Yoenis Cespedes, Mets' Win-Win Reunion Puts NL on Notice

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistJanuary 23, 2016

New York Mets Yoenis Cespedes hits an RBI single against the Cincinnati Reds in the seventh inning of a baseball game in Cincinnati, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)
Tom Uhlman/Associated Press

The love affair between Yoenis Cespedes and the New York Mets may not turn out to be a long-term relationship. But it'll be more than a fling.

That much was solidified Friday when Cespedes ended his long winter courtship and agreed to a three-year, $75 million pact with the Mets, per Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal. The deal, as Rosenthal noted, features a player opt-out after one year. That's an important wrinkle, as we'll get into shortly.

For now, here's the immediate takeaway: This is a win-win proposition that makes the Mets immediately scarier and puts the rest of the National League on notice. 

Prior to the Cespedes signing, the Mets hadn't made a big offseason splash. They lost second baseman and postseason dinger-monster Daniel Murphy to the division-rival Washington Nationals. And while they acquired his replacement, Neil Walker, from the Pittsburgh Pirates, the defending Senior Circuit champs seemed to be treading water more than swimming ahead.

Now the Mets have saved face with a restless fanbase. And they've augmented an offense that's backed by arguably the best, deepest rotation in baseball.

Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz headline a starting five that should also get Zack Wheeler back from Tommy John surgery sometime in 2016.

Add Cespedes, the bat that ignited New York's 2015 run, and stir.

You already know the story, but let's recount it anyway. After coming over from the Detroit Tigers in a July 31 trade-deadline swap, Cespedes proceeded to hit .337 with 17 home runs in 57 games for the Mets, sparking the offense and propelling New York to a division flag.

At the time, it seemed the Cuban masher would be nothing more than a rental. Despite playing their home games in the Big Apple, the Mets are an infamously spendthrift organization. 

As the winter wore on and Cespedes stayed on the board, the possibility of a reunion began to seem more likely. Still, Cespedes reportedly had bigger offers from "multiple clubs," per Rosenthal.

The Mets, however, won out by offering an immediate, gaudy payday. Cespedes will earn $27.5 million if he opts out after next season, per CBS Sports' Mike Axisa, an eye-opening annual value. And assuming he produces well enough to opt out, the 30-year-old slugger will enter a much weaker 2016-17 free-agent class.

So the financials make sense, even if the years don't match what other top-shelf hitters like Jason Heyward, Chris Davis and Justin Upton commanded.

As for the Mets, they're suddenly back among the NL's eliteif they ever left.

Cespedes anchors a Mets offense that's backed by a superlative pitching staff.
Cespedes anchors a Mets offense that's backed by a superlative pitching staff.David J. Phillip/Associated Press

The Chicago Cubs have added key pieces to an already-loaded young roster. The St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates also lurk in the NL Central.

Out West, the San Francisco Giants are retooled for an even-year run, the Arizona Diamondbacks have brought in ace-level arms and the Los Angeles Dodgers are always a big-spending force to be reckoned with.

And in the NL East, the Nationals are looking to rebound from a disappointing 2015 with reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, a new manager and one key former Met in the fold.

With Cespedes, the Mets can stand toe-to-toe with anyone. He may not replicate his crazy second-half production from last season, but he endows New York's lineup with an undeniable fear factor and allows others—David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda—to slide into more comfortable supporting roles.

"I've been around a lot of great players. I've seen a lot of great players," Mets skipper Terry Collins said of Cespedes, per Rosenthal. "This guy, just strictly tools, the five toolshe's got 'em all."

There's some question as to where Cespedes will fit into the Mets outfield. He profiles best as a left fielder, but Michael Conforto impressed there during his rookie season in 2015, hitting .270 with an .841 OPS in 56 games. 

Instead, Cespedes could slot into center field in place of Juan Lagares. But while Cespedes was good for 15 defensive runs saved in left field last season, that number sank to minus-four in center, per FanGraphs.

Those details can be ironed out. For now, New York added a needed impact bat. Cespedes got paid, with a chance to cash in again next winter. And the balance of power has shifted in the National League, tilting toward Queens, as Axisa outlined:

[The] return of Cespedes makes the Mets the clear favorites in the NL East. They were probably the favorites before re-signing him, but had Cespedes gone to Washington, it may have tipped the balance of power in the division. The race would have been closer, no doubt about that.

Cespedes is back, and he gives the Mets one more big middle-of-the-order hitter, which they needed... .

Maybe this relationship isn't destined for the long haul. In fact, the safe money is on Cespedes bolting for untold riches somewhere else after one more go-round with the Mets.

For the moment, however, the Amazins faithful should be feeling the love. The basher is back in town.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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