- The Mets re-signing of Cespedes should go a long way towards restoring fan trust in the organization, writes Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. The club has taken a lot of flak in recent years for perceived penny pinching and a failure to make big, meaningful moves in the offseason. Much of that can be blamed upon the Bernie Madoff scandal. It should encourage fans to see the team take advantage of a unique opportunity. Although Cespedes signed at a “discount,” the minimum commitment of $27.5MM in 2016 is still a substantial investment for the Wilpons.
- The deal is sensible for the Mets, writes Benjamin Hoffman of the New York Times. Using values provided by FanGraphs, Hoffman notes that Cespedes’ 2015 was worth over $50MM. Expecting regression, Hoffman estimates Cespedes will be worth about $20MM in each of the next few campaigns. While the one-year opt out means the Mets could be renegotiating next offseason, Cespedes will only trigger the opt out if he has a valuable season.
- Based on past performance, Cespedes could be a disaster in center field, writes Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs. However, Sullivan dives beyond the surface – 900 innings in center field spread over his major league career – to find other players like Cespedes. His biggest asset is superior arm strength. Two center fielders who rely on arm rather than range are Marcell Ozuna (-3 UZR/150) and Leonys Martin (15 UZR/150). Sullivan supposes that experience could help Cespedes run better routes and his elite arm can help to avert a complete disaster. Ozuna seems like a much more likely optimistic outcome than Martin.
- If the Mets won the deal, the Nationals and Angels were the losers, writes Mark Townsend of Yahoo. Cespedes was the last top-of-the-line free agent on the market. Now teams will sift through the decent remaining options like Dexter Fowler, Howie Kendrick, and Ian Desmond. The Angels have a particular need for firepower to fit around Mike Trout. In my opinion, Fowler and his high OBP would be an excellent fit batting ahead of Trout. Meanwhile, the Nationals pursuit of Cespedes always struck me as merely opportunistic. They didn’t have an obvious need for Cespedes. In my mind, they may have been assuring the Mets paid something to reacquire him.
- The Mets’ $75MM total offer was considerably less than the deal offered by the Nationals, who were willing to give Cespedes in excess of $100MM over five years and an opt-out after the second year, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal writes. (Rosenthal notes that the Nats’ deal did contain “heavy deferrals,” however.) Cespedes’ willingness to stay in New York despite the promise of greater treasure elsewhere could make him a hero to Mets fans, and the deal is an “absolute triumph” for the Mets, writes Rosenthal.
- Cespedes’ new deal contains fewer years than anticipated, but it still makes him very highly paid on a year-by-year basis, Ken Davidoff of the New York Post writes. If Cespedes exercises his opt-out, he will have received $27.5MM for the 2016 season, an average annual value that’s second only to that of Miguel Cabrera’s among position players. Meanwhile, the deal turns the Mets into NL East favorites, Davidoff writes, and the downside risk of the deal is limited, since Cespedes is only signed for three years.
- The Cespedes re-signing is one of several moves this offseason that makes their defense worse, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs writes. The team had previously acquired Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, both questionable defenders at the positions they’ll be asked to play. And Cespedes figures to take over for the light-hitting but defensively brilliant Juan Lagares in center. The Mets will have a strikeout-heavy pitching staff, which will limit the amount of damage their fielders can do, but the success of the team’s new-look group of position players will probably depend largely on their producing offensively.
- The Mets caught some luck that allowed them to sign Cespedes, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal points out. First, Ben Zobrist rejected the Mets to sign with the Cubs. Then, Michael Cuddyer unexpectedly retired. That left them with the money necessary to sign Cespedes.
9:40pm: Both New York and Washington are “operating under [the] assumption that other teams also are pursuing Cespedes,” Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports adds (links to Twitter). He notes that the chatter surrounding the Mets’ three-year offer may be luring other organizations into the mix (if they weren’t already) to pitch their own ideas based on such a concept.
As Rosenthal notes, the White Sox are one club that has already been reported to have interest at that level of commitment. I’d add that the Orioles remain a plausible suitor at a more limited contract length, and certainly it isn’t hard to imagine other clubs that could be intrigued by that idea.
8:43pm: The Astros do not appear to be a late entrant, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart tweets.
Reports recently have suggested that a signing could come in very short order, with those two teams appearing to be the finalists. Washington is said to have dangled a five-year offer with a value approaching, if not exceeding, $100MM. New York, on the other hand, was set to meet with Cespedes’s reps today in hopes of selling him on three-year scenario of some kind.
But a mystery team (or teams) appear to be altering the equation as the star outfielder nears his decision. It’s not known which late entrants are shaking up the market for the veteran Cuban slugger, but neither is it difficult to guess at some of the possibilities. In fact, Steve Adams and I broke down no fewer than a dozen possibilities just yesterday in the latest episode of the MLBTR Podcast.
As I wrote back in early December, there was never a clear favorite for Cespedes, but it always seemed there’d be a wide array of interest. After all, he’s only thirty and is coming off of a monster 2015 campaign. While there are certainly some major question marks — in particular, the fact that his 2013-14 work fell far shy of his efforts in the seasons before and after — there’s no ignoring his ceiling.
Most of the clubs noted in that post are still plausible suitors. It’s probably safe to scratch off the Tigers, but clubs such as the Angels, Giants, Cardinals, Orioles, and White Sox all still seem plausible to varying degrees. The Padres have been said to be lurking, too, and so have the Braves — though Atlanta, at least, has always seemed to be on hand in case of a bargain.
And it would be foolish to rule out organizations like the Rangers — if not even the Red Sox or Yankees — when a premium talent is on the board. Really, only a handful of organizations appear to be wildly implausible pursuers. There are always ways to deal with perceived logjams, after all, and Cespedes represents the last open-market opportunity to add a potential superstar.
While the Nationals are said to have made a five-year contract offer to Yoenis Cespedes, ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that the Mets are now discussing a three-year contract which would include an opt-out provision after the first year of the deal (Twitter link). Olney also tweets that the expectation among some involved in the discussions is that Cespedes will make a decision within 24 to 48 hours.
A three-year deal with an opt-out next winter would represent somewhat of a compromise between the two sides, as the Mets have long been said to have interest in Cespedes, but only on a short-term deal. FOX’s Ken Rosenthal wrote last night that Cespedes prefers to return to New York, although the team’s previously reported maximum contract length of three years was well shy of the division-rival Nationals’ reported five-year pact. Adding an opt-out provision to the three-year scenario for the Mets, however, would allow Cespedes the opportunity to test the open market again next winter while giving him some financial security should things head south in 2016 (either due to injury or poor performance). A three-year deal with an opt-out after 2016 would, in some ways, be a modernized form of the traditional one-year “pillow contract” — a concept I explored two weeks ago in the MLBTR Newsletter and discussed at length on last week’s MLBTR Podcast with Jeff Todd.
Specific parameters on the three-year/opt-out scenario being discussed have yet to be reported (perhaps because they’re not yet set in stone), but rejecting a five-year offer worth around $100MM (and possibly a bit more) would certainly be a risky play for Cespedes, who is already coming off a career year in which he batted .291/.328/.542 with 35 home runs. Next winter, he’d be entering his age-31 season, which could potentially limit a team’s willingness to commit to him on a long-term deal, as they’d be receiving less of his prime than they would by signing him this offseason. Cespedes and his representatives have to assume that he would be subject to a qualifying offer next offseason as well — another potentially detrimental component with which he did not have to contend this offseason. Then again, next winter’s free-agent class is considerably worse than the crop of free agents we saw in 2015-16, and if Cespedes approaches his 2015 numbers, he’d be one of the top two or three free agents available.
Suffice it to say, Cespedes and his agents have a number of factors to consider when determining which scenario is in his best interest. It also remains possible, albeit perhaps unlikely, that a dark-horse team will emerge and give Cespedes a stronger offer than the one he’s currently received from the Nationals. The Orioles were previously said to have interest in Cespedes on a five-year deal, although that was prior to the team’s signing of Chris Davis. The White Sox and Braves have both been connected to Cespedes as well, albeit on shorter-term deals (which, presumably, did not include opt-out clauses such as the one the Mets are now said to be considering).
As the Rockies search for upgrades to their rotation and bullpen, the team is now considering a run at right-hander Yovani Gallardo, tweets Jon Heyman. SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo tweets that the two sides haven’t had any extensive discussions yet but are expected to meet in the near future. Asked about the reports linking his team to Gallardo, Rockies GM Jeff Bridich downplayed the interest on MLB Network Radio (Twitter link), saying: “I’m not sure where that came from. It’s no different than checking in on just about everybody.” Many expect the Rockies to address their rotation, although the common belief is that they’ll do so by trading from their outfield surplus. There’s enough uncertainty in the current rotation that Colorado could do both, though, and it’s worth noting that the team’s first-round pick is protected by virtue of its finish in the 2016 standings. Then again, convincing any free-agent pitcher to spend a considerable amount of time calling Coors Field his home park is a difficult task.
A few more odds and ends pertaining to the remaining free agent market…
- The Indians are still open to adding a free agent at the right price, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. Both Juan Uribe and David Freese are potential fits, but there’s no momentum toward a deal at this time. Cleveland could certainly use a bat at either third base or in the outfield though, as Jeff Todd and I discussed on today’s MLBTR Podcast. (Specifically, Austin Jackson strikes me as a nice speculative fit for Cleveland.)
- Regardless of what happens with Yoenis Cespedes, the Nationals do not appear to be done trying for improvements, as Heyman tweets that the club is still looking to add to the bullpen. Moving Drew Storen for Ben Revere obviously lessened the team’s relief depth, and it’s not hard to see the rationale for continuing to stockpile (if not also to add another late-inning arm).
- The Rays are among the teams with interest in righty Ryan Webb, according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). Webb, who’ll soon turn 30, had an odd transactional year as the Orioles and Dodgers used his contract to facilitate other moves. But he ended up putting up 50 2/3 solid frames for the Indians, working to a 3.20 ERA with 5.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 to go with an excellent 59.2% groundball rate, and he’s generally been quite a solid reliever over his seven-year career.
- While there’s some merit to the idea of Doug Fister as a Yankees target, the club does not appear inclined to go past one year on a deal, Jack Curry of the YES Network tweets. Notably, too, owner Hal Steinbrenner told Jon Heyman yesterday (Twitter link) that he doesn’t see much room to add even this year: “I’m not comfortable with the payroll being too much higher than it is now.”
- Cuban outfielder Alexei Bell has established residency in Mexico and is applying tomorrow for free agency, MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez reports on Twitter. It’s not yet clear what kind of market the veteran will find for his services, but he is obviously leaving his home island in hopes of making an impact at the major league level.
10:23pm: Rosenthal says that Cespedes prefers to stay with the Mets, who are scheduled to speak with his representatives tomorrow, but is wrestling with the fact that the team is refusing even to begin negotiating dollars until Cespedes agrees to their three-year concept. It’s also still possible that other teams are participating in talks on Cespedes, says Rosenthal, though certainly all the recent public reporting has painted the picture of a two-horse race.
Given that New York is set to meet again with Cespedes’s agents, it certainly seems that the organization still has a chance to bring back their three-month star.
4:08pm: The Nationals are indeed offering five years, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports notes (Twitter links). Meanwhile, the Mets are standing at three years. It remains unclear to what extent any other clubs are still involved in the bidding, Rosenthal adds.
The Mets have no interest in moving past three years, say Newsday’s Marc Carig and David Lennon, and the team has not actually even reached the point of making a formal offer.
1:25pm: The Nationals are “pressing” to complete a deal with outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, reports Jon Heyman (links to Twitter). The Nats are believed to be willing to offer about $100MM over a five-year term (“maybe a bit more,” Heyman adds) with some deferrals — a tactic they used in structuring Max Scherzer’s seven-year deal last winter. Heyman characterizes the talks between the two sides as serious.
Cespedes is an imperfect fit for the Nationals, who already have a crowded outfield scene (as Jeff Todd and I discussed at greater length on today’s MLBTR Podcast). Washington currently has Jayson Werth in left field, NL MVP Bryce Harper in right field and Ben Revere and Michael A. Taylor as options in center field. However, the Nationals have shown in the past that they’re willing to add talent even without a clear fit, as was evidenced by last year’s signing of Scherzer despite an already excellent rotation. Even this offseason, the Nats have pursued Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, and they signed both Daniel Murphy and Stephen Drew even though one could argue that the team already had sufficient middle infield depth.
Ultimately, Cespedes is the type of player that would serve as an upgrade to any roster in the Majors, and Washington may feel that his current market is at a point where they can’t pass on adding a player of this caliber to its roster. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported that the Nats had made an offer to Cespedes last night, though he noted at the time that the offer was short of the contract that Upton landed with the Tigers.
The Brewers, Angels, and Rangers are among the teams that have at least some level of interest in outfielder Austin Jackson, according to a report from ESPN.com’s Jerry Crasnick (via Twitter). Meanwhile, he adds, the Cubs could conceivably bring Jackson back “for the right price.”
We haven’t heard much at all on the market for Jackson, who has endured a tough run of late but remains an intriguing player as he nears his 29th birthday. He’s queued up behind Dexter Fowler among center fielders, and Fowler could well be waiting to see what happens with Yoenis Cespedes before he commits to a contract.
But Jackson is a notable free agent in his own right. He entered the offseason placing 35th on the top-fifty list of MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes, landing with a one-year, $12MM prediction. As Dierkes noted at the time, it has always been unclear whether Jackson would land with some kind of multi-year arrangement or instead take a one-year pillow deal in hopes of finding a bigger contract next winter.
At his best, Jackson has delivered pop and speed to go with a quality glove in center — rather a difficult mix to find. Indeed, he tallied over 15 rWAR in his first three years in the league. Things have trended downward since, as Jackson owns a cumulative .269/.319/.382 batting line since the start of 2013.
While teams probably won’t be expecting a return to his established ceiling, even the diminished Jackson looks to be a useful performer. He’s still a capable center fielder with near a league-average bat, and has traditionally performed about as well against both left-handed and right-handed pitching. And it isn’t difficult to see the reasoning behind the interest from the clubs that appear in Crasnick’s report.
As MLBTR’s Steve Adams explained in today’s podcast (around the 21:00 mark), in fact, Jackson looks like a nice fit with Texas since he could fill in all across the outfield. Los Angeles has long been seeking a solution in left field, while the Brewers’ could certainly stand to add a solid veteran in center — potentially with the hope of flipping him at the deadline or extending a qualifying offer after the season. And Chicago obviously was interested enough to add Jackson late last year. He’d possibly add an up-the-middle option to the Cubs’ outfield mix, especially if the team were to strike a trade involving Jorge Soler.
The Nationals made an effort to sign Justin Upton but came up short to the Tigers, writes Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, adding that with Upton now in Detroit, the Nationals are in pursuit of fellow free agent Yoenis Cespedes. While exact parameters aren’t known at this time, Rosenthal hears that the Nationals have indeed made an offer to Cespedes. The proposed contract is not as lucrative as the one that Upton landed in Detroit, writes Rosenthal, although the mere fact that they have an offer on the table does speak to the sincerity of their interest.
As Rosenthal points out, Cespedes is far from a perfect fit for the Nationals’ roster. Jayson Werth is owed $42MM over the next two seasons, has a full no-trade clause on his contract and struggled with health and on-field production in 2015. Suffice it to say, all of that makes a trade difficult to envision. Bryce Harper, of course, is a fixture in the outfield on the heels of his first National League MVP Award, and the team recently traded for Ben Revere to pair with Michael A. Taylor in center field. Speaking purely speculatively, the Nats could look to trade Revere themselves or move Taylor, considering Cespedes a large enough upgrade to make an unexpected play in that regard. While both Cespedes and Harper are best suited for corner outfield work, Cespedes played quite a bit of center field last season (albeit, with some difficulties), and many scouts believe that Harper is young enough and athletic enough to capably handle center field for a few years.
However, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes, the lack of a clear fit doesn’t necessarily preclude the Nationals from making a splash. The Nats didn’t look like an on-paper fit for Max Scherzer one year ago but still sprung to sign him, pushing Tanner Roark out of the rotation just months after he had turned in a seemingly breakout campaign. GM Mike Rizzo has long prioritized a deep roster, Janes notes, and the team could mix and match with Revere in center and Cespedes in left on days when Werth is out of the lineup (I’ll also point out that Werth has quite a lengthy injury history and is by no means a lock to stay healthy in 2016). Janes also points out that the Nats had interest in Cespedes back in 2012 when he was an international free agent, adding that the team’s current payroll projects to be about $30MM lighter than it was at the end of the 2015 season.
Earlier this week, reports indicated the market for Cespedes was intensifying. To this point, the Orioles have been linked to Cespedes most prominently — at least in terms of their willingness to spend on him — but it’s unclear if they remain in the mix after re-signing Chris Davis. The Mets are said to open to a short-term deal with Cespedes, and the same is said to be true of the White Sox, who just tonight were reported to be maintaining their limit of a three-year term in their pursuit. Late last night, the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Dennis Lin threw the Padres into the Cespedes market to some extent as well, reporting that the team is “monitoring” the late development of his market.
Wagner’s piece reports that Washington’s offer to Upton was for less than the six years he received in Detroit, and Rosenthal hears the same. Furthermore, the team also reportedly offered Jason Heyward $200MM earlier this offseason. Clearly, the Nationals are open to, if not actively seeking outfield improvements, and Rosenthal adds that Nationals ownership is “intrigued” by Cespedes. Whether that culminates in an agreement remains to be seen, but the Nationals could take the approach of hoarding as much talent as they possibly can this offseason, then worry about how to maximize said talent in terms of on-field production when the season rolls around.
Lynn Henning of the Detroit News breaks down the series of events that led to the Tigers’ signing of Justin Upton to a six-year, $132.75MM contract today. As Henning notes, owner Mike Ilitch went into the club’s annual offseason holiday break with some reservations about the concept of a Cameron Maybin/Tyler Collins platoon in left field. By the time Tigers’ brass returned to their offices, Ilitch was committed to signing one of Upton, Yoenis Cespedes or Alex Gordon to upgrade in left field. Tigers scouts and analysts went to work on making as informed a decision as possible, and GM Al Avila consulted with assistant Alan Trammel and Tigers broadcaster Kirk Gibson about their personal experiences with Upton from the trio’s days together in Arizona. Henning notes that Detroit also considered Chris Davis, as Jon Heyman reported, but ultimately concerns over his ability to handle left field at Comerica Park eliminated him from the fold. Upton’s age and superior on-base percentage appear to have been focal points in the decision, though Henning notes that Cespedes was under serious consideration until last week. Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweeted the same yesterday, noting that Detroit negotiated with both Upton and Cespedes simultaneously before deciding on Upton.
Here’s more from the AL Central…
- Upton’s agent, Larry Reynolds, said at today’s press conference that they offered the Tigers a pair of scenario’s: a longer-term deal without an opt-out clause and the six-year deal with a two-year opt-out that Upton ultimately signed (links to Twitter via MLB.com’s Jason Beck). Reynolds adds that Upton didn’t sign with Detroit to be a Tiger for only two years, stating, “Justin’s been on enough teams.” Of course, if Upton enjoys two healthy and productive seasons in Detroit in 2016-17, it’d be a surprise if he didn’t again test the open market in advance of his age-30 season.
- The Tigers might not yet be done adding pieces, Beck tweets. At today’s press conference, Avila told reporters, “I’d still like to have more depth in pitching. We’re adequate right now.” An addition to the rotation seems unlikely, at least on a Major League deal, though the team could reasonably pursue some depth on a minor league deal or look to add one more piece to the bullpen mix.
- The White Sox remain interested in Yoenis Cespedes, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (Twitter link), but their stance has not changed since their initially reported interest. Per Nightengale, the ChiSox are still unwilling to exceed a three-year term in their pursuit of Cespedes. A short-term deal for Cespedes still strikes me as an unlikely scenario.
- The Twins’ trade of Aaron Hicks this winter caught Byron Buxton off guard, the top prospect tells MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. The trade was somewhat bittersweet for Buxton, Bollinger writes, as he lost one of his best friends on the team but also received a clear-cut message that the center field job was his for the taking. Buxton says he made some adjustments late in the season, and the numbers bear that out, as Bollinger notes, pointing out his .273/.314/.515 batting line in his final 20 games. Manager Paul Molitor tells Bollinger that the organization’s hope is that Buxton is ready to take the reins in center field and run with it, though as Bollinger writes, Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Danny Santana all have some experience in center field should Buxton struggle.
- La Velle E. Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tweets that Twins scouts believe left-hander Fernando Abad was tipping his pitches last season, which resulted in the veteran’s struggles. The Twins believe they can correct the issue, per Neal, which would give Abad a shot to break camp with the club. Minnesota signed the 30-year-old to a minor league deal earlier this offseason. Abad posted a 4.15 ERA with Oakland last season but had recorded a 2.27 ERA across 95 innings in the two seasons prior.
The Padres are monitoring the market for outfielder Yoenis Cesepedes, reports Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune, though his source characterizes a fit between San Diego and the Roc Nation client as unlikely.
San Diego has a vacancy in left field with the departure of Justin Upton now all but official, and Cespedes would fill that void more than capably. The Friars aren’t without in-house options at the position, of course, as prospects such as Hunter Renfroe and Rymer Liriano are nearly MLB-ready, and oft-injured but still-promising Wil Myers could slide back into the outfield from his currently projected role at first base (in theory, anyhow).
While the reserved nature of Lin’s connection between the two should temper speculation to an extent, it’s interesting that he points out ownership’s willingness to spend as much as $120MM on payroll, considering the fact that the team’s reported one-year deal with Alexei Ramirez will only push the 2016 payroll to about $100MM. Additionally, Cespedes won’t cost a draft pick, meaning the Padres wouldn’t have to forfeit one of the six picks they now possess in the top 100 selections of this June’s draft to sign him. From a purely speculative standpoint, the Padres wouldn’t even need to backload a contract too significantly in order to shoehorn Cespedes’ salary onto the 2016 ledger.
Then again, as Lin notes, there are longer-term payroll ramifications to consider. Matt Kemp is owed $21.75MM annually through 2019, and while the Dodgers are picking up $3.5MM of that commitment each year, that’s still an $18.25MM annual payout for San Diego. James Shields is owed $21MM this year and could command that same amount in both 2017 and 2018, depending on whether or not he exercises the opt-out provision in his contract following the upcoming season. (While such a scenario isn’t impossible by any stretch of the imagination, especially given the weak crop of starting pitching next winter, Shields would need to recover from some of the homer troubles that plagued him in 2015 to make such an outcome appear likely.) Additionally, the team has Melvin Upton Jr. on the books for $16.45MM in 2017 and will pay a portion of Jedd Gyorko’s contract to the Cardinals in the 2017-19 seasons. If Shields declines to opt out of his contract, the Padres would run the risk of spending nearly half their payroll capacity on three players in 2017-18 following a Cespedes signing.
On the other hand, if Shields does take his release, the only money the team will have on the books beyond the 2017 campaign is that which is owed to Kemp and the fairly modest contributions they’ll be sending to St. Louis for Gyorko. That’s a much clearer long-term outlook than much of the league can claim. On paper, it would seem to create some degree of financial fit for Cespedes in the long run, though adding a second 30-something corner outfielder still carries risk. Cespedes is considered a plus defender in left field, though, quite unlike Kemp. His floor has to be considered significantly higher than that of Kemp at this stage of their respective careers.
While all of this is highly theoretical, the interest — however faint — does in some ways highlight the difficulties that this offseason’s rash of opt-out clauses could create for the teams that issued them in the future. A hypothetical decision on whether or not to pursue Cespedes would be made considerably easier if the Padres knew exactly what type of financial commitments are going to be on the books beyond the 2016 season. However, the aforementioned risk of allocating 50 percent of its payroll to just three individuals could potentially be a huge detriment to any pursuit.