WASHINGTON -- The Mets no longer need to negotiate with Yoenis Cespedes during a pennant race or risk losing him forever. The team announced Tuesday that it and Roc Nation Sports have negotiated an amendment into Cespedes' contract, allowing the Mets to pursue him for the entirety of this offseason's free-agent period.
Under their old arrangement, the Mets could negotiate with Cespedes for only five days following the conclusion of the World Series. After that point, Cespedes' unique contract language would have made the Mets ineligible to re-sign him until May 15, making his return to New York a near-impossibility.
The new language still forces the Mets to release Cespedes after the season, despite his lack of six years' service time -- the usual benchmark for an unrestricted free agent. But it makes Cespedes a normal free agent in every other way, able to negotiate with all 30 teams throughout the winter. Both Major League Baseball and its Players' Association signed off on the amendment, which still prevents the Mets from extending Cespedes a one-year qualifying offer and acquiring a Draft pick if he rejects it.
The new deal does give the Mets a more realistic opportunity to re-sign Cespedes, a Trade Deadline rental who has shattered expectations by batting .311 with a .358 on-base percentage and .669 slugging mark in 34 games. But it does not make them markedly more likely to do so. One team source cautioned not to read anything into the renegotiation beyond the Mets' willingness to keep their options open, while another pointed out that Cespedes' Roc Nation Agency was the side that initiated talks -- not the other way around.
"He's benefited by the fact that it allows us to be involved in whatever negotiations take place over the course of the entire free agent period," Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said.
While the move eases short-term pressure off a front office that would have needed to make a snap decision on Cespedes, it increases long-term pressure on a club that may not ultimately be interested in dedicating a significant chunk of its future payroll to him. The soon-to-be-30-year-old Cespedes will almost certainly command a nine-figure deal this winter, and Alderson has only given out one of those in his five years as GM: the eight-year, $138 million pact he negotiated with face of the franchise David Wright. In addition, the Mets already have four outfielders under team control next season in Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares, Curtis Granderson and Michael Cuddyer, the first two of them for years to come.
Alderson also has a history of deriding what he calls "second-generation" long-term contracts for players in their early 30s and has displayed no recent indication that his philosophies have changed. Both he and Cespedes declined to comment on the situation beyond confirming the amendment's existence, though Cespedes deflected contract talk after Monday's latest 3-for-5 performance.
"I don't really know what they're thinking, but my plan is to go out there and have fun," Cespedes said through an interpreter. "I enjoy the team. It's really a great team. I love the city of New York. I love the fans and what we've got going here is a really good thing. So I don't really think about that. I just want to go out there and do my job, and put up great numbers."