The Washington Nationals did not chase the slugger as Yoenis Cespedes remains with the rival New York Mets. A move benefitting both clubs.
Instead, the 31-year-old left fielder re-signed with the New York Mets for four years and $110 million. Count your lucky stars.
Sure, Cespedes is the plum free agent. If he had signed here, it would have made a productive lineup potent. His arrival in the District would have sent a message to the baseball world the Nationals are serious about winning right now.
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But, with his signing in Queens, the Nationals are still the better team. The $29 million Cespedes gets in 201 and 2019 is an overpay the Mets had to do. And a prudent play for the Nats to avoid.
Yes, Cespedes can slug. His full season at Citi Field saw him hammer 31 home runs while cutting his strikeout numbers from 141 in 2015 to 108 last year. His Adjusted OPS+ of 133 is well above-average, although outside the National League Top 10. He finished eighth in the MVP voting and earned a Silver Slugger.
Why would he be a bad fit in Washington? Well, his bat is incredible, but his defense and diva-like behavior is not.
First, Cespedes no longer wants to play center. Washington says that is the outfield hole. Jayson Werth, at the end of his contract, is the left fielder for 2017. Although Cespedes would have moved to left for 2018—if he signed with the Nats—he no longer wishes to play the harder position. When he re-signed with New York last year, they moved him to left.
A look at runs saved prove his point. His Defensive Runs Saved last year in center was minus-seven. In left, plus-four. Cespedes is a left fielder. Stashing the surly outfielder in center would be costly.
In five seasons, the Mets are his fourth team. Oakland, Boston and Detroit all gladly traded him. In a clubhouse where things are quiet and players get along in public, Cespedes and his love of golf were not a good fit.
Last year, the Nationals and Cespedes were serious about getting a deal done. They offered deferred money and he, as is his right, declined. Whatever contract the Nationals offered was including deferred money. With the television situation working against the Nationals, the financials did not change enough to offer everything upfront.
Instead of Cespedes getting the big check, they re-signed Stephen Strasburg instead.
Would Cespedes tilt the balance of the NL East heavily toward Washington? Yes. That is why the Mets had to spend big to keep him. Over four years, he will average $27.5 million per year. With the New York pitching corps under team control and cheap, they had to do it.
Washington’s big money is tied up in pitching and Werth. They have the highest payroll in the division. One that beat the Mets by eight games last year.
Sure, Matt Harvey will not struggle as he did before and Washington has holes to fill. With Cespedes back, the gap between the teams remains.
On paper, the Washington Nationals are the better team. But, those games against the Mets will be fun to watch.