- The Mets and catcher Rene Rivera agreed to a one-year deal worth $1.75MM, Heyman tweets. The 33-year-old signed a minor league deal with the Mets last summer and eventually found his way onto the big league roster due to a combination of injuries and struggles from backstops Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. While Rivera didn’t hit much — .222/.291/.341 in 207 plate appearances — he’s a strong defensive backstop and gives the Mets a glove-first option to back up either d’Arnaud or Plawecki (presumably the former, who has been the team’s starter when healthy in recent years).
- That being said, the Giants are also looking to add a power bat in the outfield, and they have continued to consider Tigers slugger J.D. Martinez, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). That interest has been known for some time, but it seems there’s still life to the possibility. Notably, GM Bobby Evans has signaled that San Francisco does not wish to take on a long-term obligation in the outfield, as Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle tweets. The same rationale that makes Martinez appealing — his one year of team control — could also make Mets outfielder Jay Bruce a possibility, Schulman notes.
- The Mets would like to add not one but two left-handed relievers to their bullpen, Heyman writes. They’re interested in a reunion with southpaw Jerry Blevins, who spent the past two seasons in the organization, but other reports have indicated that Blevins is likely to receive a multi-year deal that will exceed the Mets’ comfort zone. The Mets might also consider adding catching help, though that’s not characterized as a priority in this report, which also notes that the team considers Michael Conforto to be close to untouchable in trade talks.
- While domestic violence charges against Mets closer Jeurys Familia may soon be dropped, that doesn’t mean he won’t face league discipline. That possibility must be considered by the organization as it charts its offseason, GM Sandy Alderson says, as ESPNNewYork.com’s Adam Rubin reports. Of course, it still seems unlikely that the club will be motivated to spend big on a new late-inning arm, particularly with Addison Reed capable of filling in for the ninth inning after an excellent 2016 season. It’s possible that a reliever, or perhaps some array of young talent, could end up moving to New York if (or, more likely, when) the team deals one of its left-handed-hitting corner outfielders, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports. The Mets’ strong preference is still to trade Jay Bruce rather than Curtis Granderson; it seems that the latter player may be expected to share time in center with Juan Lagares.
- Alderson also said in an appearance on MLB Network Radio today (Twitter link) that he’d be “surprised” if the Mets got involved with a top-level center fielder in free agency due not only to the draft pick they’d have to forfeit (referring to Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond) and also due to the fact that the team has other needs on the roster. Following the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes, the Mets are looking to move an outfielder, with reports indicating that Jay Bruce is the name they hope to shed. However, Curtis Granderson is reportedly drawing more interest, and FanRag’s Jon Heyman reports that the Orioles are among the teams with interest in Granderson (Twitter link). Baltimore doesn’t appear to have much interest in Bruce, however, he adds.
Immediately following yesterday’s news that Yoenis Cespedes had agreed to re-sign with the Mets on a new four-year deal, speculation about the possibility of a Jay Bruce trade began. Reports earlier in the week had indicated that the Mets would try to trade Bruce in the event of a new Cespedes deal, but Newsday’s Marc Carig reports that Curtis Granderson is drawing more trade interest than Bruce in early talks. Per Carig, the Mets aren’t closed off entirely to the idea of moving Granderson over Bruce, but the decision will be influenced by the strength of the return they’d get in a Granderson deal. The Blue Jays are one team with interest in Granderson, according to FanRag’s Jon Heyman (Twitter link).
Meanwhile, MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo reports that the Mets’ “overwhelmingly strong” preference is to move Bruce as opposed to one of Granderson, Michael Conforto or Juan Lagares (Twitter links). While the Mets have gotten calls on all four outfielders, DiComo conveys that the Mets have “made it clear” that neither Conforto nor Lagares will be going anywhere. The Tigers made an attempt at prying Conforto away from the Mets when they asked for him in return for J.D. Martinez prior to New York’s deal with Cespedes, Carig reports in his column, but that lopsided asking price predictably didn’t gain any traction with the Mets. (The Post’s Mike Puma notes that the the Mets still consider Conforto a building block moving forward even after his rough 2016 season.)
The financial difference between Bruce and Granderson isn’t especially great, with Bruce set to earn $13MM next year to Granderson’s $15MM. However, Granderson has been a quietly productive member of the Mets since signing his four-year, $60MM pact prior to the 2013 season, hitting a combined .241/.342/.436 and averaging 25 homers per season. While neither slugger has hit lefties whatsoever in recent years, Granderson is better-equipped than Bruce to handle center field despite being six years older. It should also be noted, of course, that Bruce’s tenure with the Mets was mostly a struggle. Though he caught fire late in the year and went 12-for-25 with four homers over his final eight games, Bruce batted just .219/.294/.391 as a member of the Mets, including a .174/.252/.285 skid prior to that eight-game heater to close out the year.
The Orioles announced that they’ve acquired right-hander Logan Verrett from the Mets in exchange for cash, which Jon Heyman of Fan Rag pegs at $50K, on Twitter. Verrett’s departure from the Mets will clear a spot on New York’s 40-man roster that’ll go to the newly re-signed Yoenis Cespedes.
[Related: Updated Baltimore Orioles Depth Chart]
The 26-year-old right-hander was a Rule 5 pick out of the Mets organization by the Orioles a couple of years back, so their interest in him goes back quite a ways. The former third-round pick pitched 91 2/3 innings with New York last season but posted a 5.20 ERA with 6.5 K/9 against 4.2 BB/9 and a 44.1 percent ground-ball rate in that time. Verrett has a considerably more solid 4.26 ERA in 238 2/3 innings with the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate (in a hitter-friendly setting).
For an Orioles team that is light on pitching at the big league level, Verrett will give the team an option that has big league experience as both a starter and a reliever. Verrett could potentially occupy a swingman role with the Orioles in 2017, which would further call into question the future of non-tender candidate Vance Worley in Baltimore.
After two consecutive offseasons of anxiously awaiting to learn whether Yoenis Cespedes would return to their team, Mets fans can rest assured that the star slugger won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. The Mets announced on Wednesday that they’ve re-signed Cespedes to a four-year contract that reportedly comes with a full no-trade clause and guarantees Cespedes a total of $110MM. Cespedes will reportedly be paid $22.5MM in the coming season, followed by consecutive $29MM paydays, and then a $29.5MM hit for 2020. The team has called a 5pm ET press conference at Citi Field to announce Cespedes’ new contract.
While the move doesn’t rate as a major surprise, the timing and the size of the deal are. Both sides were said to be seeking resolution by the end of the upcoming Winter Meetings, but evidently ended up striking an early deal. While Cespedes had a reasonable argument to command six guaranteed seasons, and seemed a good bet at least for five, he’ll end up taking a relatively short pact — albeit at a hefty average annual value of $27.5MM. MLBTR had predicted that Cespedes would earn $125MM over five seasons this winter.
[RELATED: Updated Mets Depth Chart]
Though he was rather clearly the best single free agent available this winter, it was never entirely clear what other organizations would join New York in pursuit. The Astros did end up as “serious bidders,” per ESPN.com’s Buster Olney (Twitter link), though it’s not clear whether Houston appealed to Cespedes as a destination. Certainly, both he and the Mets were interested in a reunion after one-and-a-half fruitful seasons together. The veteran slugger may not have found better opportunities elsewhere — at least, perhaps, not in preferred locales — but it’s notable that he did not at least await some further market development before putting pen to paper. Ongoing CBA uncertainties may have played some role, and it’s fair to recall that Cespedes did not exactly have an optimal trip through free agency the last time around.
Last winter, of course, Cespedes undertook a drawn out process before agreeing to return to New York on a three-year, $75MM deal. While he reportedly had larger offers elsewhere, at least nominally, that package was likely the best available. In particular, it gave him the chance to opt out this winter and re-enter the market after earning $27.5MM for his 2016 season. With another big season on his resume, he did just that, and was able to secure a much larger fortune in his next contract.
Though Cespedes didn’t quite maintain his torrid late-2015 work, his offensive output last year was a near match for his overall 2015 effort. Put those seasons together, and he has contributed 1,219 plate appearances of .286/.340/.537 hitting with 66 home runs. That’s about one-third more productive than the average offensive performer leaguewide.
Notably, the 31-year-old Cuban managed to repeat his impressive .251 isolated slugging mark from the prior year while also nearly doubling his walk rate to 9.4%. His strikeouts held steady at around one-fifth of his plate appearances. Combined, that made Cespedes an average (or slightly better) hitter in terms of plate discipline, which perhaps bodes well for his ability to adapt as his reflexes slow as he moves through his thirties.
Cespedes also thrived when he put the ball in play, limiting his soft contact and barreling up the ball a personal-best 39.3% of the time (per Fangraphs). He again produced home runs on nearly twenty percent of the fly balls he put in play — about 50% better than league average. Most of his power comes to the pull side, though Cespedes does spray liners around the diamond.
While he was death to lefties in 2016, putting up an OPS north of 1.000, Cespedes doesn’t really carry worrying platoon splits. Indeed, he’s still plenty productive against right-handed pitching; last year, when facing same-handed hurlers, he batted a quality .266/.329/.510. For his career, there has been virtually no difference in his output depending upon pitcher handedness, though he’s much more prone to draw a free pass when he has the platoon advantage.
In the field, Cespedes continued to draw very strong ratings for his work in left. That largely offsets the demerits he took for time spent in center. He split his innings about evenly between those positions, which explains why his overall defensive ratings tanked compared to 2015. Certainly, it would have been better for his market (and the Mets) if Cespedes was truly capable of manning a quality center field, but his bat plays just fine in the corner and he continues to earn plaudits there with the glove.
Cespedes didn’t provide any reason to believe he’s anything less than a quality defender in left, but there was at least one hint of a downturn in his athleticism. Perhaps in part due to the quad problems, he was more above-average than great in his accustomed corner position, representing a slight tick down from prior years. And for the first time in his career, Fangraphs’ BsR metric regarded Cespedes as a (very slightly) below-average overall baserunner. He stole only three bags, marking a personal low, and didn’t provide the kind of solid value on the bases that he had previously. It’s only a nitpick, and may be mostly attributable to the hamstring injury he dealt with in the middle of the year, but it’s a factor to consider given the march of time.
At the plate, it’s hard to find any recent areas for complaint, though the track record isn’t flawless. It remains to be seen, for instance, whether Cespedes will continue to exhibit the improved plate discipline that he managed in 2016. And while his past two campaigns have been excellent, he was underwhelming in the two that came before, posting a cumulative .251/.298/.446 batting line. In those years, his productivity was sapped by 45.6% and 48.0% flyball rates, which likely suppressed his batting average. It’s fair to note that his flyball rate crept forward again in 2016 (to 41.4%), and also that his additional walks serve to set a higher on-base floor — if he can maintain that approach.
For New York, the biggest piece of business of the winter is now out of the way. But it’s likely not a plug-and-go arrangement for the team. The team now has three notable, left-handed-hitting corner outfield options who’ll need to be accounted for: Jay Bruce is on the books for $13MM, Curtis Granderson is set to earn $15MM, and youngster Michael Conforto also in the mix. Though the right-handed-hitting Juan Lagares remains a factor in center, he’d best be used as a platoon piece, and it’s not clear who might join him up the middle. Trading Bruce seems likely at this point after his underwhelming half-season in New York, though perhaps Granderson or Conforto could be moved instead under the right circumstances. And that leaves unaddressed the question of which lefty will share time in center.
Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports first reported on Twitter that there was increasing optimism of a deal. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that there was an agreement in place (via Twitter). Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports added the financial terms (Twitter link), and FanRag’s Jon Heyman added the yearly breakdown (Twitter link). Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweeted that Cespedes also received a full no-trade clause.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- The Mets still have no intention of pursuing one of the top three closers on the market, reports MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo (Twitter links). DiComo checked in recently on Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon and was informed that there’s “little to no interest” from the Mets on that front. Rather, the team is looking at mid-tier free agents, and DiComo lists Fernando Salas as one example. Salas finished out the year in the Mets’ bullpen and performed brilliantly, firing 17 1/3 innings of 2.08 ERA ball with 19 strikeouts and no walks.
7:16pm: Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Jays are also “showing a strong interest” in Dexter Fowler. In the event that the Jays were to sign Fowler, he’d slide over to one of the currently vacant outfield corners, as Kevin Pillar stands out as one of the game’s premier defensive players and is locked in as Toronto’s center fielder.
From my vantage point, Fowler is a vastly better fit for the Blue Jays than Bruce, as he’d provide a definitive defensive upgrade over either Bautista or Saunders in one of the outfield corners and would also add both the speed and lineup balance that Atkins has stated to be offseason priorities. The additions of both Fowler and Morales would give the Jays two switch-hitters to inject some much-needed left-handedness to a lineup that currently features right-handers Russell Martin, Devon Travis, Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Pillar.
Signing Fowler would require the Blue Jays to forfeit the No. 24 overall pick in the 2017 draft, though the team could recoup a compensatory pick in the event that either Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion signs elsewhere. Fowler, 31 next March, batted a robust .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers and 13 stolen bases in 551 plate appearances with the Cubs while turning in the best defensive metrics of his career in center field.
4:47pm: The Blue Jays are “among the teams making a push for Jay Bruce,” reports ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick (on Twitter). Toronto has an obvious need for corner outfield help following the departures of Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders, and Bruce figures to be a trade candidate now that Yoenis Cespedes is reportedly in agreement with the Mets on a new four-year, $110MM contract.
[Related: Toronto Blue Jays Depth Chart]
Toronto has already tried to trade for Bruce once, back in Spring Training, and was believed to be on the verge of completing a three-team trade with the Angels and Reds before the medical reports on some of the minor league talent involved in the deal caused the trade to break down. Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins has stated that he’d like to add some left-handed bats to the lineup to help balance it out, and Toronto has already succeeded to some extent by signing switch-hitting DH Kendrys Morales to a three-year deal.
Bruce, 30 in April, is fresh off his best offensive season since 2013, having batted .250/.309/.506 with 33 homers between the Reds and Mets in 2016. However, he struggled greatly for much of his time with the Mets, and while he did catch fire in the season’s final two weeks, that marks the second straight season in which Bruce performed well for most of the season before fading badly in the second half. He’s also seen his defensive ratings drop dramatically in recent years — perhaps not coincidentally after undergoing knee surgery early in 2014. Defensive Runs Saved pegged him at -11 this past season, while Ultimate Zone Rating was at -9.
Bruce would give the Jays a short-term bat with plenty of pop, though, and his $13MM salary for the upcoming season is one that the Jays could certainly afford. The Mets picked up a club option on Bruce after the season due to some uncertainty surrounding whether Cespedes would return, and recent reports have indicated that he’d be marketed in the event of a Cespedes re-signing.
There’s “optimism growing” within the Mets organization that the team will be able to reach agreement on a new deal with star free agent Yoenis Cespedes, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reports on Twitter. It isn’t precisely clear what has led the team to that interpretation, but evidently there’s some sign of movement on the slugger’s market.
New York is reportedly hoping to avoid guaranteeing five years to Cespedes, even as it has seemed likely he’ll do just that. (Indeed, there’s at least a theoretical case that he could command a sixth season.) Both sides are said to be hopeful of resolving things one way or another by the conclusion of the Winter Meetings, which are scheduled to take place next week.
Coming into the winter, there was no question that both player and team would have interest in a reunion. But there were perhaps two major questions in Cespedes’s free agent case: first, whether significant interest would develop from one or more new organizations; and second, to what extent the Mets would be willing to beat the market to re-sign him. Last offseason, New York was able to land the star on a three-year, $75MM deal by dangling an opt-out, though now he’s the consensus best-player-available and has banked another year of superstar-level production.
It’s hard to guess at what could be driving the Mets’ organization’s apparent belief that it could be moving into position on Cespedes. His market has been relatively quiet on the rumor mill, but that may not reflect the action behind the scenes. Also, continued uncertainty in the CBA could have an impact on what other organizations will be willing to do. Whether not fear of a work stoppage could motivate Cespedes and his reps to work something out with the Mets isn’t know, but perhaps can’t be ruled out. All told, it’s certainly plausible that the sides have moved toward common ground after performing their own internal assessments.