“He obviously helps put butts in seats,” Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said. “People want to see him.”
If it’s celebrity Cespedes is after, he’s found it in New York. And if it’s star power the Mets seek, they’ve found it in Cespedes. Their marriage is one of practicality; the Mets aim to win a World Series, and Cespedes anchors their ability to pursue one. It’s also one of comfort. As general manager Sandy Alderson negotiated the richest free-agent contract franchise history, Cespedes told the Mets how much he wanted to return, reaching out to individuals from ownership on down to the kitchen staff.
“I said it long before this happened that I wanted to be with this team. I wanted to come back to this team,” Cespedes said through an interpreter, after slipping a familiar No. 52 jersey over his dress shirt. “And God willing, I will finish my career with this team.”
Quipped Alderson: “God willing, and a no-trade clause.”
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Typically leery of these types of contracts, the GM was only half joking. Calling a proposal without that clause “a non-starter,” Van Wagenen said he would not have negotiated a contract without one. So instead of another opt-out clause, the trend around baseball, Cespedes’ contract offers the type of permanence he has never experienced — in a place where he is eager to experience it.
“I didn’t like that feeling of just when I was starting to get comfortable with a team that I could be gone,” said Cespedes, who bounced from the A’s to the Red Sox and Tigers before landing in New York. “So that was a very important part for me.”
Cespedes’ agent also spoke of the Mets’ drastically different attitude this month vs. a year ago, when the team did not seriously pursue Cespedes until January. This time, the Mets were aggressive, unwilling to give rival clubs a chance to strike.
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“This is what we targeted,” Wilpon said. “This is what we hoped for. And to have it come back and be able to get it done this quickly is great. … New York wants a winner. He obviously makes us win.”
The deal’s average annual value of $27.5 million is not only the largest in Mets history, but also the highest for any big league outfielder, and tied with Alex Rodriguez for highest issued to a free-agent position player. Only Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera, who is guaranteed an average of $31 million over the life of his current contract, makes more.
The evidence is overwhelming. Over Cespedes’ first season and a half in New York, the Mets were 106-74 with him in the starting lineup and an 18-23 without him. During the course of that time, they grew increasingly familiar — and increasingly comfortable — with Cespedes the person. They were already plenty comfortable with the rest of him.
“When the guy plays, we win,” Alderson said. “It’s hard to ignore that. So we didn’t.”
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Fantasy spin | Zachary Finkelstein (@Fantasy411)
With 48 long balls in 189 games with the Mets, Cespedes has found his comfort zone in the Big Apple. The Cuban certainly could have picked a more favorable home venue from a pure fantasy perspective — Citi Field is relatively tough on right-handed bats — but he will nonetheless command an early-round pick in 2017 drafts on the expectation of a 35-homer, 95-RBI campaign.
With a surplus of formidable options, the Mets may not be done configuring their 2017 outfield. In addition to Cespedes, the Mets have three talented left-handed-hitting outfielders under contract — Jay Bruce, Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto — as well as righty-hitting center fielder Juan Lagares, who is arguably best-suited for a platoon.
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
Source: Mets News / Cespedes, Mets finalize 0M deal