The Mets re-signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $110 million contract, ensuring that their best hitter sticks around to support their talented young pitchers. In an abstract sense, it reads like an obvious move. It’s a big-market team keeping a popular player who helped them reach the postseason in consecutive seasons. Simple.
Considering it’s the post-Madoff Mets, however, it’s something of a stunner. And it’s the kind of move they needed to make.
In almost any other context, this would have been the least surprising development of the offseason. The Mets might not control half of New York, split right down the middle, but they still command more attention and eyeballs than just about any other team in baseball. They are a big-market team by any definition, one of the biggest. When the team was desperate to score runs, along came a charismatic slugger to help them win the pennant. That’s the kind of player a big-market team keeps.
Except the Mets cough up the equivalent of a medium-market team’s entire payroll every year in interest payments alone. The Mets’ owners were sucked into (and used to profit from) Bernie Madoff’s grand scam, and they were forced borrow money against the team and their stake in the team’s television network, SNY. That meant if they were going to make a big splash, it would be with someone like Michael Cuddyer, and even that came with a cursed-frogurt component that allowed the Mets to save money on the following season’s draft pick. There was always a threat that Cespedes would find a more lucrative offer somewhere else. That was the likeliest scenario, even.
Last season, remember, it was a given that Cespedes was going somewhere else. But there was a glut of outfield help on the free agent and trade markets, and the price kept falling, and no one was really sure if his newfound 30-homer power was for real, and he landed back with the Mets, improbably. It was a three-year, $75 million deal, but it really amounted to a one-year-deal with two player options in case of a catastrophic injury. There was no way Cespedes wasn’t going to try the market again, even if he teased Mets fans this summer.
The short-term deal turned out to be a smart move by Cespedes and his agent, as it allowed him to confirm that he was still an elite slugger and enter an offseason without outfield distractions like Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. It’s almost amusing to consider them peers now, but last year was a wild time filled with hope. Cespedes gets paid, and he gets to stay where he was comfortable. He’s a winner in this.
“He’s a winner in this,” the adult wrote about a sports man who will be paid $110 million to play sports ball for four years. Sometimes you have to have bold opinions, though.
Also a winner: the Mets. And how. I don’t know what Matt Harvey is going to contribute next year, and it’s appropriate to be skeptical about younger pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz when their last seasons ended with injury. But this isn’t a team that needs a 47-step plan to be one of the very best teams in baseball. It isn’t a roster built on leaps of logic. There aren’t a lot of “If their #8 prospect becomes an All-Star ...” disclaimers you need to make.
If the Mets’ pitching is healthy, they’ll contend. If they’re contending, they’ll need hitters to support their pitchers.
Those are two sentences that have described the Mets for the last two seasons, and they should be good for the next several. If Cespedes left, the Mets would have had to scramble, maybe making a trade for J.D. Martinez, or giving lesser money to a lesser outfielder on the open market. Or maybe they would have gone with a four-headed monster of Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Brandon Nimmo, and Michael Conforto, which is the punchline to the classic kid’s joke, “What has eight legs and shouldn’t be within 100 feet of center field?”
They’ll still have to figure out what to do with that happy mess of outfielders, old and young, but they have their lineup anchor back. The perception of the Mets last year was a team with dangerous pitching and enough hitting to be one of the best teams in baseball. Cespedes was a big part of that, and the perception of the team will be the same this year, just with added nervousness and a reminder that the human body is a fickle thing.
The Dodgers could have used Cespedes. The Giants certainly could have. The Yankees would have enjoyed him in Yankee Stadium, and he was a fit for just about every big-market team in baseball. The most obvious big-market team got there first, though, and in retrospect, it seems so obvious. Of course he was going to stay with the Mets. He was a fine fit and a popular player. What sort of big-market team lets that kind of player get away?
The modern Mets, that’s who. At least, that was a distinct possibility. Instead, he’s happy, the Mets are happy, and the fans are happy. It’s a big-market holiday miracle that should have been a big-market holiday formality. The Mets don’t care about the details, though. They just know they’re going to have a team that’s as least as strong as last year. It’s amazing just how unlikely that looked until an hour ago.