Yoenis Cespedes is back with the New York Mets, but how does that affect the NL East race?
By Patrick Brewer
Finally, the drama and back and forth is over. The Mets have officially re-signed much-maligned, and perhaps much-beloved outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a new deal.
The deal is for three years and $75 million, with a $27.5 million value for the first year, an opt-out after that first year, and a full no trade clause for the entire length of the contract.
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So full Cespedes deal with #Mets, per sources: Three years, $75M, full no-trade clause, opt-out after one year. Pending physical.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 23, 2016
If Cespedes opts out with #Mets, his one-year salary will be $27.5M, second-highest AAV ever for a position player. @jonheyman first.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 23, 2016
Despite reportedly having “several” more lucrative offers, from at least the Nationals and perhaps another mystery team or two, Cespedes elected for the shorter years and lesser money to stay in New York. The real key to the deal from Cespedes’s standpoint is the ability to opt-out after next season and re-test the free agent market, with a weak outfield free agent class to compete with next season.
All offseason, the Mets have made smart decisions. Each acquisition and signing has made sense, pushing the Mets into a more balanced overall team. From the recent signing of Antonio Bastardo, to the additions of Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker and Alejandro De Aza, every addition by the Mets has given the team further depth, and most importantly, more talent.
The Cespedes signing is really the icing on the cake for Mets fans, and the entire Mets organization. The Mets did have to pay a premium for Cespedes, in terms of average annual value, but the opt-out makes it a fair trade off for both sides.
So with Cespedes now in tow, and clearly not with the Nationals, where does this move leave the National League East?
Since the signing of Daniel Murphy, in the eyes of many, the Nationals had usurped the Mets as divisional favorites for next season. The Steamer projections over at fangraphs.com have the Mets at 88-74, four games behind the divisional favorite Nationals. This was obviously before the signing of Cespedes, which should push the Mets at least a win or two closer to the Nationals.
Whether or not the Mets are clear-cut favorites or not is irrelevant, at this point the Mets have all the momentum in their favor. Rather than sit idly by why they lost a second player via free agency to the Nationals, the Mets ownership instead took matters into their own hands and did everything they could to bring Cespedes back to town. And succeeded in the process.
Despite the steep cost that the Mets will be paying for his contract next season, the Mets appear better on paper with Cespedes in the lineup, than without him. Cespedes was shown to be an important catalyst to the Mets 2015 success, and will look to build off that success in another year with the Mets.
Even with all the positivity flowing out of New York from Mets fans and critics alike, this move still comes with question marks, as any big move does. While cost comes into play, as it usually does, the bigger concern with this signing is in regard to where Cespedes fits on the Mets roster.
Michael Conforto is already slated to be the opening day left fielder, with the same being said for Curtis Granderson in right field. This leaves Cespedes to likely be the center fielder as he was at the end of last year, given he is the best option of the three. Cespedes does have one of the best arms in baseball in the outfield, but lacks the defensive intangibles and ability to be anything more than an average everyday option in center field.
Despite this concern, the Mets are getting the offensive boost they so desperately needed. Once again Cespedes will likely slot in as the clean up hitter for the Mets, as he did for much of the second half of last season, including the postseason run. With Cespedes back in that lineup, there will be less pressure on guys like Lucas Duda and David Wright, with a more balanced lineup from top to bottom.
On top of that, Cespedes being back in the starting lineup makes the Mets bench better as well, as both Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares will serve as utility players/late inning defensive replacements. Say the Mets are up by a score of 4-1 in the 8th. They can pull any one of there three outfielders and put in one or both of De Aza and Lagares to sure up the outfield defense for the critical late innings of games.
Mets ownership and the front office have been vilified all offseason, from being ridiculed after the signing of Alejandro De Aza, to being called downright cheap for the unwillingness to re-sign Cespedes to a contract longer than three years, they now look to be geniuses. Not only did they acquire a franchise-altering player at last year’s trade deadline, one who helped them make it all the way to the World Series, they convinced him to stay in the city that he fell in love with in his short time in New York last season. Far from being cheap, the Mets ownership looks like absolute geniuses at this point.
The Nationals still may be the more talented team on paper in the NL East. The additions of Daniel Murphy, Ben Revere and a few others look strong, and should lead to a National bounce back next season. Regardless of how the talent looks on paper, baseball is a game of momentum. Going into last season, the Nationals were the World Series favorites, and crashed and burned. At the same time, the Mets went from unlikely playoff contender to World Series team. For Mets fans, the Nationals and their new talent are irrelevant.
All that matters is Yoenis Cespedes is back in New York playing for the Mets in 2016. It may be temporary, given his one year opt-out, but right now that doesn’t matter. Cespedes is a Met and Mets fans couldn’t be any happier.