I’m not gonna say “poor Nationals,” because they’ve still got a good team. But they’ve now aggressively pursued all of Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Mike Leake, and Yoenis Cespedes this offseason, only to lose out on all four when the final decision came down.
On Cespedes, it’s gotta sting even more, because as of Thursday, it was really looking like they were well-positioned to get Cespedes on an incredibly reasonable five-year deal (perhaps under $100 million total commitment, plus significant deferred money).
Instead, per multiple reports, Cespedes is returning to NL East rival the New York Mets, where Cespedes was so gangbusters in August and September that he almost single-handedly put the team over the top and into the playoffs.
The deal is also a big bet on himself, as Cespedes locks on a relatively small guarantee for himself (compared, for example, to Justin Upton and Chris Davis, each of whom are guaranteed nearly twice as much as Cespedes – Davis more than twice as much, Upton a little less than twice as much, but he’s got an opt-out after year two). Still, he’ll make $27.5 million in 2016 before almost certainly opting out, and that’s not that much less than he’s made in his entire career so far ($36 million).
Cespedes will play this season at age 30, so, with an adequate year, he should be able to cash in on a bigger deal next offseason when the free agent market is less robust (not only in the outfield, but overall – there will simply be more money available for fewer players).
Cespedes figures to move around the Mets’ outfield a little bit, but if you presume that Curtis Granderson and Michael Conforto will be playing at the corners most often, Cespedes will probably see a lot of time in center field, where he wasn’t always great for the Mets. Indeed, when he’s played center field in his career so far, Cespedes rates out as brutally bad. His bat makes up for it a bit, but the Mets will probably have to get creative with late leads they want to protect, since Cespedes rates out as pretty darn good in left field, and they’ve got guys like Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza on the bench. It’s a really crowded outfield, but it’s a nice mix of bats and gloves. As weak as the Mets’ infield could prove to be, the outfield could, in total, be excellent.
Throw in the obviously very good rotation, plus the solid bullpen, and you’ve got the makings of a very good team. Probably better now, on paper, than the Nationals. Those are probably going to be your primary NL East contenders when all is said and done – the Phillies and Braves are tanking, and the Marlins haven’t done enough to improve significantly this offseason, though they do have a lot of young talent, so there’s upside – and the loser of that race is probably going to be right in the thick of the Wild Card race.
Once again, an NL team at the top improves, and the extreme polarity in the NL is exacerbated. This is going to be a strange season, I suspect. I know it sounds crazy, but you might see multiple 90+ win teams that don’t make the playoffs.
As for the impact to the rest of the market, I wonder if the Nationals now look at Dexter Fowler a little bit more, and ditto White Sox or Angels. There’s a fit there for both teams, and, at this point in the offseason, as sad as it makes me for him, Fowler is probably going to have to consider signing a short-term, very reasonable deal. I still don’t think a reunion with the Cubs is likely – as a complementary type, Austin Jackson feels like a better fit, if possible – but at some point Fowler’s price tag sinks so low that it’s gotta be a consideration, even if the Cubs aren’t interested in shopping Jorge Soler. They’d just have a crazy crowded outfield for a year.
More likely, Fowler signs with another team and impacts the Cubs by virtue of netting them a draft pick. Hopefully.