If Yoenis Cespedes is offered a four-year deal, the Mets have absolutely no excuse not to sign him. A deal like this would likely give Cespedes an elite average annual value, and it would give the Mets a shorter-term deal that would not be too constraining over the long term.
But this is looking less and less likely by the day. It’s beginning to look like Cespedes is going to land a five-year deal from someone, and if that’s the case than the Mets should pass.
Most Mets fans probably want to see Cespedes back in orange and blue next season, no matter what the cost. However, a five-year deal for $25-30 million per season is too risky– especially if Cespedes’ production tailors off.
Mets fans have been used to the MVP-caliber production that Cespedes has put up ever since he was traded at the 2015 deadline. He’s batted .282/.348/.554 since coming to the Mets, with 48 home runs, 130 RBIs and a 140 OPS+ in 189 games. Those, indeed, are MVP-type numbers.
The only problem is, Cespedes can’t be trusted to put up those numbers on a year-to-year basis. Keep in mind that the last two years for “Yo” were both contract years– when players tend to put a little extra effort in. Before the trade, Cespedes’ career slash was .269/.317/.473 with a 118 OPS+.
This includes a two-year stretch from 2013-14 when he had a .298 on-base percentage over 287 games. Reverting to these kinds of numbers, especially as Cespedes gets older, is not at all out of the realm of possibility. Especially on a big contract.
Declining play in the field will also be problematic for Cespedes going forward. Cespedes has posted a negative dWAR, according to Baseball Reference, in each of his first two seasons with the Mets. The team has already moved him out of center field, and these issues are not going to get any better when Cespedes is 35.
Likewise, the precedent for position players in their 30’s who get big free-agent contracts is not exactly good. Eight have received $100 million contracts in their age-31 season or later, here are the results:
Robinson Cano (2014-23): 158 games, .299/.355/.479, 25 home runs, 88 RBIs, 5.7 bWAR
Josh Hamilton (2013-17): 97 games, .255/.312/.428, 13 home runs, 49 RBIs, 1.1 bWAR*
Albert Pujols (2012-21): 144 games, .266/.325/.474, 29 home runs, 98 RBIs, 2.9 bWAR
Jayson Werth (2011-17): 123 games, .267/.358/.437, 16 home runs, 61 RBIs, 1.6 bWAR
Alex Rodriguez (2008-16): 110 games, .269/.359/.486, 22 home runs, 73 RBIs, 2.9 bWAR**
Alfonso Soriano (2007-14): 127 games, .269/.359/.486, 26 home runs, 75 RBIs, 1.0 bWAR
Carlos Lee (2007-12): 149 games, .283/.337/.466, 23 home runs, 97 RBIs, 1.4 bWAR
Jason Giambi (2002-08): 128 games, .260/.404/.521, 30 home runs, 86 RBIs, 3.1 bWAR
*Does not include missed 2016 season. Hamilton was also released with one year left on his deal.
**Does not include missed 2014 season. Rodriguez was also released with one year left on his deal.
It’s too early to draw a verdict on the Cano contract. But of the other seven, with the exception of Giambi and Lee, experienced marked drop-offs in production. And in the cases of Hamilton, Rodriguez and Soriano, the contracts became major albatrosses for their respective teams, and hampered them for years. And, given the Mets’ luck, (which let’s face it: Is a big factor in public perception) fans shouldn’t get their hopes up that one of their players will end up bucking this precedent.
We all know that the Mets aren’t the type of team to pony up big-ticket dollars for marquee free agents. If Cespedes’ deal becomes a long-term albatross a la Johan Santana, it could hamper the Mets in that respect for a long time. Four years is manageable, but five is just too much of a risk.
If the Mets had a Dodgers-style payroll system, than the risk of a five-year deal for Cespedes would be minimized greatly by ownership that doesn’t hesitate to shell out money to star free agents. But we all know this isn’t the case, and if the Cespedes deal doesn’t work out, the Mets are going to be stuck in a bad situation for a long time.