New York Mets fans are excited this week but their favorite player might not feel the same way. Over the weekend it was announced that free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who was an important piece to last year’s National League Championship team, has decided to ultimately stay in New York. The Cuban defector has agreed to a three-year contract worth $75 million. Some of the terms of the deal include an opt-out clause which Cespedes can exercise after the 2016 season. That would make him a free agent next off-season and if he has another big year, he could be the top free agent available.
There is also a no-trade clause in effect which is perfect for the 30-year-old because he’s been traded three times since the 2014 season. Stability is a good thing especially if he decides to play out the full three years. After all, the Mets are primed to contend again in 2016. But the issue for the outfielder known for his ability to throw out base runners from the farthest warning tracks is not about the Mets contending this year, it could be about the money. When free agency began just after the 2015 season concluded, Cespedes was considered the number one, non-pitching free agent on the market.
And just like most of the available pitchers, Cespedes was projected to land a contract worth at least $100 million if not more. And considering that he had a .291 batting average (second highest of his career), .328 on base percentage (third highest), .542 slugging percentage (career high), and an .870 OPS (also a career high), combined with 328 putouts and 13 outfield assists -not to mention a .980 fielding percentage- in 2015, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before teams were handing Cespedes briefcases full of money. That turned out not to be the case.
There were a few reasons for this…..
There was a higher demand for pitchers than position players this offseason. Teams spent close to $1.2 billion just on starting pitching alone, an additional $200 million went to relief pitchers. Plus, Cespedes wasn’t the only outfielder out there deserving of a big pay day. Jason Heyward got $184 million to upgrade the Chicago Cubs defense, while Justin Upton got $132 million to turn around the Detroit Tigers fortunes, and Alex Gordon got close to $80 million to help the Kansas City Royals try to repeat as World Series Champions. Then you have to consider the teams who were interested in Cespedes but didn’t exactly have a boatload of cash lying around.
The Chicago White Sox expressed a great deal of interest in landing the five-tool outfielder but ultimately couldn’t afford his asking price. The Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, and San Francisco Giants were also seeking outfield help but decided on cheaper but effective alternatives in Gerardo Parra ($27.5 million), Colby Rasmus ($15.8 million), and Denard Span ($31 million) respectively. Just before Cespedes re-upped with the Mets, The Washington Nationals showed some faint interest but opted to stock up on pitchers and infielders instead. Then there’s the fact that while other teams would have loved to have the native of Campechuela on their roster, they had more pressing needs to fill.
After a while, the big money began to dry up as teams continued to address their needs. In the end, this left Cespedes with no choice but to take the deal to stay in The Big Apple. He may not have gotten the salary he wanted, but he gets to play for a contending team again. And if Cespedes continues to be an offensive force while remaining consistent on defense, he could be the first free agent taken off the board in 2017.
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