Boston Sports Day

Esposito: Why Cespedes Won’t Opt-Out

(Neil Miller/Sportsday Wire)

This is just speculation, and just one opinion, maybe even wishful thinking, but I don’t think Yoenis Cespedes will opt-out after the first year of his newly signed three-year contract with the Mets for a robust $75 million.

And here’s why.

There’s a bunch of reasons, mostly 75 million reasons, but right now, Cespedes is quite happy. He’s in the right place at the right time. He fits the team. The team fits him. And you are the reason. Yes, you, the fans. He’s feeling the love. He felt it from Day One. And it feels good.

At the press conference yesterday to officially announce his autograph on a new Mets contract, Cespedes, through Mets PR assistant Melissa Rodriguez translating, “Yo” emphatically noted that “it’s not always about the amount of money being offered. It’s about wanting to be in a place that you want to play in, that you’re happy.”

Now before you skeptically think, “Wait a minute. The translator was a Met employee…” – there were enough members of the media present who also speak Spanish fluently and had anything been cleaned up from a Mets point of view, they would have thrown a flag, so to speak.

Of course, every free agent that signs a big contract is happy and says all the right things – he even said he’d be willing to play right field on occasion, which actually did raise a flag (really, Yo?) – there appeared to be a genuine level of comfort in everything expressed, not just “contract-speak,” and then there was this quote:

“I’m really excited to be here the next three years.”

Again, to be fair, that could come from agent-coaching, and the anticipation of a lot of money headed his way, but he didn’t have to approach it that way. There’s other ways to word it to leave the door open at the end of the season.

The 30-year-old outfielder (who warms up for each game by taking grounders at shortstop, by the way) will earn $27.5 mil this year, but broken down as a $10 million signing bonus (probably pocketed that yesterday) and a $17.5 mil salary for 2016. His paychecks for 2017 and ’18 will total about $23,750,000 each year (according to baseball-reference.com).

So now let’s look at this from the rest of baseball’s point of view. If Cespedes has a great year, say 39/110/.295 (not an outrageous presumption based on just pushing previous production a pinch – his four-year average calls for 30/103/.271, and he went 35/105/.291 last year between Detroit and New York), then the rest of baseball will be impressed and the bidding war might ensue.

But baseball has already collectively said they didn’t want to go more than three years and/or more than about $20-22 mil per for Cespedes – despite Washington’s nearly desperate bid of five years and $100-$110 mil package. Everybody else turned down the Nationals’ offers so they wanted to make a splash (and cut into their chief rival’s chances), despite the notion that Cespedes didn’t fully fit the team.

It’s already been determined that there will be few big-time free agents on the market next winter, so that could be a factor. But how many are going to be willing to push the financial envelope and go past an average of $25 mil per year to make it worthwhile for Cespedes?

The Yankees could become desperate if their latest attempt at the big prize again eludes them. And their deal with ex-Met Carlos Beltran will have expired. The Nationals might try to snare him again. The payrolls in LA, Anaheim, Boston, San Francisco, and Detroit are already bloated, but if they don’t get close to the trophy, their owners could get antsy. The Braves might want to make a big splash for their new ballpark in ’17, but that’s kind of unlikely. The Orioles miss Nelson Cruz’ bat, but they wrote their big ticket bringing Chris Davis back. St. Louis already proved they wouldn’t resign Jason Heyward to a big contract, and they don’t like big tickets in general. The Cubbies spent big this winter and last. The Phillies can eject Ryan Howard’s killer contract after this season, but they seem intent on challenging Cincinnati, and Atlanta as the worst teams in baseball more than being aggressive.

Things could change after this year, as more teams that fail in 2016 might feel the heat to get better. But the big payrolls already have big paychecks in place and with the luxury tax at $189 mil, that becomes a factor. But aha, there’s talk the luxury tax threshold will be raised, based on baseball’s lucrative incomes, so that comes into play.

Right now, there are just five non-pitchers other than Cespedes making at least $25 mil in average salaries – Giancarlo Stanton, Josh Hamilton, Ryan Howard, Alex Rodriguez, and Miguel Cabrera. (If I missed anyone, apologies.)

Interestingly, each of these rich ballplayers have spent significant time on the DL, and that’s a factor. Without citing an injury, Mets GM Sandy Alderson made it a point that no matter what, a three-year deal was the team’s game plan for not only Cespedes, perhaps all of their ballplayers going forward.

“One of the things I told his agent right off the bat,” Anderson admitted, “is that we’re really not looking forward to doing a five or six-year deal, and it’s not particularly to do with Yoenis, just the history of doing long term deals, both generally throughout baseball or in recent years with the Mets.”

Don’t know if you agree, but this observer does applaud that way of thinking, as most long term deals end on the DL for way too long. As noted above.

You know, if Cespedes starts talking about opting out toward the end of the year or even after the season, there will be a window in which the Mets could actually rip up this deal, and give him another three-year deal for say, another $75 mil. Not predicting, just saying…

One detraction to the opt-out clause will be the constant harassment by the media toward the end of the season asking Cespedes on a daily basis about his plans. They’ll all be trying to get the exclusive to whether or not he plans to opt-out. They’ll ask a million different ways in English and in Spanish – but the net result will be the same. “Are you going to opt-out?” “Will you opt-out?” “Do your plans include opting-out?” “Is opting out at least a consideration at this time?”

It can be disturbing and distracting, and a big pain in the you-know-what. But they’ll be asking. You can be sure of that.

There’s another unsaid factor as to why Cespedes might feel so comfortable in New York. It quickly became obvious that his presence made him the go-to guy, the Big Kahuna, and we mean that in the nicest way possible. In Detroit, he was one of many, behind Miggy, Victor Martinez, JD Martinez, and even Ian Kinsler to a degree. In Boston, he could never be the Big Cheese while Big Papi still ruled the roost. And in Oakland, he was a big stick, along with Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss, but Trader Billy Beane just likes dealing everybody, anyway, so nobody stays too long at the party.

But here in New York, Cespedes quickly adapted and felt the love from his teammates and the fans. He emphasized those contributions several times. There was also the all-important “we” in his comments.

“I can say from my first day when I came last season, that very first day, the fans showed incredible support. My teammates were so welcoming, as well as the whole organization. From there, I just knew I wanted to come back.

“I know this team has everything it needs to continue what we started last year. We really want to finish what we started.”

Translation: Getting to hoist the trophy with all the flags on it.

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