MLB: Yoenis Cespedes returning to Mets on record-breaking four-year, $110 million deal
Yoenis Cespedes left the Mets looking for a contract that would give him a long-term baseball home but found that right back in Flushing with the team he walked away from. The Cuban slugger agreed to return on a record-breaking four-year, $110 million deal in principle Tuesday afternoon, multiple sources confirmed.
The left fielder will earn $22.5 million in 2017, followed by $29 million in 2018-19 and $29.5 million in 2020. His average annual value (AAV) of $27.5 million per year is the highest ever for an outfielder, and will have the second-highest AAV for a current position player behind the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera ($31 million).
Cespedes, who will be 34 years old when the contract expires, also has a full no-trade clause in the contract.
The 31-year-old opted out of a three-year, $75 million deal with the Mets earlier this month, leaving $47 million over two years on the table to seek the long-term deal he did not find on the free agent market last winter. With his new deal, which included a $100,000 bonus guaranteed and his salary from 2016 included, this basically is a five-year, $137.6 million deal for Cespedes, the highest AAV the Mets have ever paid a player.
Going into the 2020 season was apparently as far as the Mets were willing to go with Cespedes, and they had to hope that would not be a dealbreaker. His representatives were reportedly in negotiations with three other teams — the Astros, Giants and Nationals — and there was some in baseball who felt a fifth year, going into 2021, would be the deciding factor.
Cespedes was clearly the top, right-handed hitting slugger on the free-agent market.
A career .272 hitter, Cespedes hit 132 career home runs in five seasons. Over a season-and-a-half with the Mets, he hit 48 home runs and drove in 130 runs. For the first time in his career, he posted back-to-back 30-or-more home run seasons and in 2016 showed an improved discipline at the plate, which resulted in the fewest strikeouts since his rookie year.
Last season, Cespedes hit 31 home runs and drove in 86 runs in 132 games despite playing with a nagging right quad injury for most of the season.
Of all the teams going after Cespedes this winter, however, it was obvious the Mets’ lineup needed him the most. Their heavily left-handed hitting lineup was lifeless before Cespedes arrived in August 2015 and struggled when he did at times in 2016. With the Mets expecting a healthy rotation full of young power arms finally ready to go, they knew they needed power in the lineup to try to make another serious playoff run.
While that fact may have put them at a disadvantage at the bargaining table, the Mets also understood that they also had an advantage.
Cespedes had reached out to the team through back channels earlier this month, expressing his desire to stay and also to make sure they were committed to bringing him back. Teammates like Jose Reyes called and texted Cespedes to make sure he knew he would be welcomed back with open arms.
With a little added urgency because of the uncertainty of baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expiring Thursday at 12:01 a.m. and owners talking about a possible lockout and immediate shut down of all negotiations with free agents, Cespedes decided it was best to go back to the home he had made in New York with the Mets.
And Cespedes did it well before the Mets’ self-imposed deadline of next week. Sandy Alderson had made it clear that to realistically get Cespedes back in the Mets' outfield and on their payroll, a deal would have to be in place by the end of the Winter Meetings, which are next week.
The Mets GM set that deadline, because signing Cespedes is just the first part of the puzzle; now Alderson has to make room for him.
The Mets plan to try to shop around right fielder Jay Bruce, looking to eliminate one of the lefty bats from their outfield and his $13 million 2017 salary from their payroll. The Mets feel that they must deal at least one of their outfielders and would not consider moving 23-year-old Michael Conforto at this time. They also like the fit with Curtis Granderson, who is in the last year of his four-year deal with the Mets.
So with Cespedes returning home to the Mets, Bruce — who struggled in his half season with the team after being acquired from the Reds — will be finding a new place to play in 2017.
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