The New York Mets — one of baseball’s hottest teams — made perhaps the best in-season move in Major League Baseball, trading for slugger Yoenis Cespedes as the trade deadline.
The Mets offence has since exploded, and Cespedes (although he’s not doing it alone) is on fire. In 41 games with the Mets, he’s hitting .309 with a .691 SLG, 1.047 OPS, and has 17 home runs and 42 RBIs.
However, his strong play with the Mets has made his future even more of a mystery. Cespedes is set to hit free agency this offseason, and nobody is quite sure how it will play out.
As Yahoo’s Jeff Passan reported, there’s a strong sense of recency bias around baseball regarding Cespedes’ time with the Mets. While he’s always been a slugger with a good arm, Cespedes’ current numbers with the Mets are above his career averages in almost every category, and there’s a strong sense that at 30 years old, this is somewhat of a fluke, a prolonged hot streak.
Nonetheless, Passan says this surge bears well for Cespedes’ next paycheck:
Six weeks ago, a nine-figure deal seemed optimistic, according to two GMs, two personnel men and two agents surveyed recently by Yahoo Sports. The six now believe discussions with the soon-to-be-30-year-old Cespedes will begin at $US125 million and end up perhaps in the $US160 million range, a staggering figure for someone who the last two seasons posted on-base percentages of .294 and .301. Baseball, like so many other avenues in life, cannot help but fall into the recency-bias trap.
While a $US160 million price tag is eye-popping, it’s not the only big story here. In addition to how much Cespedes gets, who gives Cespedes that money will say a lot about the state of MLB.
As Passan notes, the Mets have been astoundingly cheap for a team playing in the biggest market in the U.S. Now, after several years of pseudo-rebuilding, the Mets have built one of the strongest pitching rotations in baseball, and they have a core of young, talented players. This season, the addition of Cespedes and a few other veterans near the trade deadline have proven to be the right combination to make the Mets look like a scary playoff team, if not legit contenders.
So, how much will that mean to the Mets when it comes to Cespedes’ next contract? This offseason, the Mets will also have to pay Matt Harvey, while Daniel Murphy and newcomers Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson hit free agency, too. Where in years past, the Mets haven’t stepped up to hand out big contracts, on the verge of World Series contention, will they be willing to spend big dollars for Cespedes and hope for internal improvement?
And who will be the Mets’ competition? As Passan notes, there’s a recency bias in baseball, and teams looking at Cespedes’ hot streak are reportedly foaming at the mouth with nine-digit offers. Despite the growth of analytics in wake of the Moneyball movement, it’s possible that some teams will ignore the sample size of Cespedes’ recent dominance and hand over a huge contract, despite his age. It will be interesting to monitor whether “smart” baseball wins over teams who hope that Cespedes has turned a permanent corner and will continue doing what he’s shown with the Mets.
Granted, there are bad contracts handed out each season, and if Cespedes can keep up his current play over a long stretch of time, a long-term, nine-digit investment in him might not be a bad deal. However, given the small sample size of his current play, his free agency, who pays him and how much, will become one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason.
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