Yoenis Cespedes explains why staying with the Mets was his preference
NEW YORK — Yoenis Cespedes says he chose happiness over more dollars.
Of course, the lower offer was a $75 million, three-year contract that kept him with the New York Mets.
"It’s not always about the amount of money being offered," he said through a translator Wednesday in his first public comments about his Jan. 22 decision. "It’s about wanting to be in a place you want to play in, that you’re happy in. And as you can see, this is just what happened in that case."
Still, the slugging outfielder has the right to terminate his contract after one season and $27.5 million, then become a free agent once again.
Acquired from Detroit on July 31, Cespedes had 17 homers and 44 RBI for the Mets, helping the team reach its first World Series since 2000. Fans at Citi Field likely expect him to keep up that pace.
"From my first day when I came last season after the trade, that very first day … the fans showed incredible support, my teammates were so welcoming, as well as the full Mets organization," the 30-year-old Cespedes said. "And I think that was what encouraged me to make the decision to come back."
New York treated Cespedes as a newly signed player, showing video highlights of his performance last season after he entered the news conference.
Chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and general manager Sandy Alderson presented Cespedes with his No. 52 jersey, which fit snugly over his street clothes. The Mets gave him his own hashtag: "GotYoBack."
Since starting his big-league career in 2012, the Cuban star played for Oakland, Boston and Detroit before landing with the Mets.
Washington was among the clubs that pursued Cespedes and was said to have offered a $110 million, five-year deal that included deferred money.
"There were several teams that wanted to give me five years," Cespedes said.
New York, shaken by underperforming players with large salaries in the 2000s, refused to consider a contract of that length.
"I don’t think it had specifically to do with Yoenis," Alderson said. "I think it had as much to do with just the history of long-term deals, both generally throughout baseball as well as in recent years with the Mets."
Cespedes was driving on his Florida farm when his agent told him the deal with the Mets had been agreed to.
"It was a big relief for me," he said.
Cespedes is expected to see time in center field as well as left, relegating Juan Lagares to mostly a platoon and late-game defensive role. With Cespedes’ return, Alderson said Michael Conforto could be used in right field during spring training.
Playing time could be limited for outfielder Alejandro De Aza, signed as a free agent. While the Mets haven’t pursued a possible trade, Alderson said interest from other teams during spring training was conceivable.
"We’re happy to have another left-handed hitter that hits well against right-handed pitching, and we’ll figure it out," Alderson said.
Cespedes’ deal raised the Mets’ payroll to about $140 million, its highest level since 2011. Alderson said the team likely would not agree to any more major league contracts with free agents during the offseason, which probably precludes the return of reliever Tyler Clippard.
Mets home attendance increased to nearly 2.57 million last year, its highest since the club drew more than 3 million during Citi Field’s inaugural season in 2009. Executive vice president and chief revenue officer Lou DePaoli said season-ticket equivalents had doubled since this point last year, although he would not specify a figure.
"We’re happy that the franchise is reasonably healthy and that we’re able to make some of these moves that we haven’t been able to make for a few years," Alderson said.