It can’t be denied that the most consistent offensive weapon for the 2016 New York Mets was Yoenis Cespedes. The player batted .280, banged out 31 home runs, and put up an OPS of 884 which is impressive anywhere but doubly so in the pitcher friendly environment of Citi Field.
Bloggers, newspersons, and callers to sports talk radio all agree that job one for the Mets this off season is to bring back Cespedes. The callers to radio shows like to say that he must be brought back “at all costs” which I’ve always felt is silly. Teams have budgets and the Mets are about as budget-conscious as an MLB team can be.
While it is crucial that the Mets attempt to bring Cespedes back for 2017 and beyond we should take a look at what would be a fair deal for both sides.
Setting the groundwork we should first look at where things stand at the moment. In 2016 there were only four players who took home a higher salary than did Cespedes:
My source for the above info lists Cespedes as receiving $28.1 million for this past season while Baseball Reference differs and writes that it was $27.5. That figure likely comes from the $25 million he made in salary and his opt out which immediately forces the team to cut him an additional check for $2.5 million.
Of course a dream scenario for the Mets would be Cespedes deciding that he is so happy being a Met that he would be happy to play the last two years of his deal at the already decided upon figure of $25 million per season.
Alas, this is most unlikely. The opt out provision was put in there primarily to allow the player to become a free agent once again should he have a particularly fine season. The extra bonus here is the fact that this is not considered a strong free agent class which would make Cespedes the absolute pick of the litter. A bidding war could drive his annual salary into the stratospheric $28-$32 million range.
Before speculating on how the Mets would approach this negotiation we should try to objectively determine how good he was in 2016 and what the next few years hold for a player who reaches his 31st birthday in a few days (October 18th).
Like all other batters not named Mike Trout, Cespedes has some flaws. While he is a fearsome power hitter and an outfielder possessing a howitzer arm he somewhat handcuffs the Mets with his preference for playing left field. The Mets have outfielders already who should be playing left: Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto. Plus an extra complication is that the team will likely pick up the option for right fielder Jay Bruce.
The Mets fan base can get a bit annoyed with Cespedes’ tendency to run hard only sometimes. These days he is hardly alone in that trait, but still…
What is surprising to this writer is how Cespedes’ offensive stats and power arm did not lead to a real high WAR (wins above replacement) using either the Fan Graphs formula (2.9 WAR) or that used by Baseball Reference (3.2). Generally a player needs a WAR of around five or higher to be considered of All Star quality. Trout’s WAR at Baseball Ref was a ridiculous 10.6. Daniel Murphy’s, even with his limited range dragging him down, was at 4.6. Clearly Cespedes has taken a step or two back on the defensive side of the ball.
So what will Sandy Alderson and Jeff Wilpon do when Cespedes opts out? Alderson has always been wary of long term deals and especially so if a player is on the wrong side of 30. The long term deals for people like Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and others have to scare off ownership from going all in even on a franchise player like Cespedes.
My guess is that they start with a four year offer for about $112 million which is an average of $28 million per season. If the player loves the city and his teammates as much as he says then that might be enough.
If some other team chooses to go a lot higher than that then the Mets should reluctantly let him walk. In that case they need to plow most, if not all, of the money saved into filling the gaping offensive hole his absence will have left.