Last January, Yoenis Cespedes signed a three year, $75 million contract with the Mets. The contract contained an opt-out clause after year one. A better way to describe that contract is that it was a one-year deal with a player option for the next two seasons, which would serve as a safety net if the player got injured or had a bad season. Since that point, it was relatively clear that if Cespedes had a strong season in 2016, he would opt-out in an attempt to get a better deal going forward than the 2 years, $47.5 million he had left on his contract.
The Mets season ended a month ago, and there was no noise about any attempt to get a deal done before free agency. The Mets have made it clear that they will wait for the market to play out and not bid against themselves.
Now, Sandy Alderson is a lot smarter than I am, and has a reputation as being one of the best negotiators in the game. He also is working with much more information about his players. This is just a humble opinion from an outsider: The Mets have made a mistake with the way they've approached the Yoenis Cespedes contract situation.
The problem with waiting the market out and not using exclusive negotiating time is that the market can get out of control. If you make an aggressive, fair, reasoned offer before other teams can bid, maybe it gets accepted. By doing nothing until the market sets itself, you risk getting priced out of a critical piece to your team.
The New York Post reported that the Mets would “likely would go four years with Cespedes, perhaps slightly north of $100 million,” which sounds like a competitive, fair offer. So why wait until other teams can outbid that? Why not offer that before free agency starts? Maybe Cespedes finds those terms acceptable. By waiting, you risk another team making Cespedes a more lucrative offer that you can’t or won’t match.
Of course, Brody Van Wagenen, Cespedes's agent, could tell the Mets that they will not sign a contract until they've had a chance to see what other offers are out there. But you just never know. Cespedes appears to genuinely enjoy playing for the Mets, with reports last year of his love for the strong Latin culture in New York and how he's felt more like he's at home in New York than anywhere else.
I'm not saying the Mets should have made a wildly excessive offer to prevent Cespedes from hitting free agency. But there should be more of a heightened sense of urgency in retaining this crucial player. It’s not the same as waiting the market out for secondary pieces. And if Cespedes’s agent counters with unreasonable demands after you’ve already made your competitive offer, then you can wait the market out and hope his price comes down.
I have strong admiration for Sandy Alderson as a man and executive, and I really like the job he's done with the Mets. I think he’s an excellent GM. But I think the Cespedes situation should have been handled better. And this is first-guessing before free agency has played out, not second-guessing after Cespedes bolts to go elsewhere. Aggression and urgency, when kept within reason, is not a bad thing.