Maybe not the robust market that Cespedes anticipated — the Mets and White Sox reportedly do not want to go beyond three years, the Angels reportedly do not want to exceed the luxury-tax threshold, etc.
But a market that still could end up with Cespedes getting four or five years at $22 million or more per season, if not more.
For all the sky-is-falling talk regarding certain free agents, only a handful of signings have failed to meet or exceed expectations. Doesn’t mean all will turn out well — second baseman Howie Kendrick, shortstop Ian Desmond and outfielders Dexter Fowler and Justin Upton are among those players still trying to overcome their qualifying offers and other issues. Still, the pattern continued on Saturday, when first baseman Chris Davis agreed to a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Orioles (with a reported $42 million in deferrals), and right-hander Ian Kennedy agreed to a five-year, $70 million deal with the Royals.
Many in the industry believed that Davis’ price would drop because he had no other apparent bidders. Many believed that Kennedy would struggle to get big money after rejecting the Padres’ one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer. Well, both somehow managed to escape the poorhouse — and by quite a bit.
Cespedes, 30, is not without warts — he is mercurial, his career on-base percentage is .319, three teams traded him in a span of 12 months. Officials from multiple clubs tell me they are afraid to commit big money to him long-term. Some fear he will decline. Some fear he will lose motivation.
Still, Cespedes was the ultimate difference-maker for the Mets after they acquired him from the Tigers, even if some of his damage came against weaker clubs. His presence alone changes a lineup. His defense in left field is outstanding. And he does not come with the additional cost of a draft pick, at a time when GMs protect picks as if they are their own children.
Yes, the next free-agent class of outfielders is thin, but Cespedes would return to the market at 31 and probably be saddled with a qualifying offer, assuming the system does not change (a good bet; the collective-bargaining agreement expires on Dec. 1, and it’s unlikely a new deal would be struck before the market opened).
Something else to consider: Cespedes already has changed agents once, leaving Wasserman for CAA/Roc Nation. He easily could switch again if he signed a one-year deal, and CAA/Roc Nation would be left without a long-term commission. It’s in the agents’ interests to get Cespedes as many years as possible.
Upton, 28, might be a better candidate for a one-year deal, simply because he is younger. But even Upton is probably a month away from making such a concession. His market finally might become clearer once Cespedes is off the board.
In the end, the date that a free agent signs is far less meaningful than the dollars he receives. It’s mid-January, and in the past week alone, Kennedy got $70 million, Wei-Yin Chen $80 million and Chris Davis $161 million.
Why shouldn’t Cespedes get $100 million, and maybe a good amount more?