WASHINGTON -- The Yoenis Cespedes derby is coming down to the wire, and it appears to be a two-team race between the Nationals and Mets.
On Thursday, it was reported that the Nationals made an offer to the 30-year-old outfielder. Washington's offer is less than the $132.75 million over six years that the Tigers will pay the newly acquired Justin Upton, according to the report. Cespedes is believed to be torn between the Nationals' offer and a potential deal to return to the Mets. According to the New York Daily News, the Mets became "more engaged" on Thursday night and talked about increasing an offer to Cespedes.
ESPN's Buster Olney reported early Friday that the Mets and Cespedes' camp were discussing the possibility of an opt-out clause after the first year of a three-year deal, giving the slugger the opportunity to become a free agent again after the 2016 season.
The Nationals are "serious" and are "pressing" to get a deal done with Cespedes and are willing to structure a deal over many years, MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported. The Nationals signed right-hander Max Scherzer a year ago to a seven-year, $210 million contract that is being paid over 14 years. It's believed the Nats are willing to go to about $100 million, perhaps more, on a five-year deal, Heyman reported. Cespedes is believed to be holding out for a sixth year.
Cespedes received an offer from the Orioles before they reached an agreement on a seven-year, $161 million contract to retain slugger Chris Davis. Cespedes has also been linked to the Padres, White Sox and Mets recently. The 30-year-old has reportedly been seeking a six-year contract for around $22 million a year.
The Daily News also reported that Cespedes' agent, citing the slugger's desire to stay in New York, reached out to the Yankees to gauge their interest in jumping in with a three-year offer.
He was one of two outfielders the Nationals had interest in entering the week. The other was Upton, but according to a source familiar with Upton, the Nats didn't make him an offer.
The Nationals already have balanced their lineup this offseason by acquiring second baseman Daniel Murphy and center fielder Ben Revere, both left-handed hitters. The Nats needed a leadoff hitter after losing Denard Span to free agency, and manager Dusty Baker recently said that Revere will fill the top spot.
Adding Cespedes would mean having a power hitter who could protect National League Most Valuable Player Award winner Bryce Harper, who had subpar protection behind him last year because of injuries to prominent players. Cespedes could be a difference-maker like he was with the Mets during the second half of last season. After he was acquired from the Tigers at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Cespedes helped carry New York to the World Series, hitting .287 with 17 home runs and 44 RBIs in 57 games.
Though he had some defensive difficulties in the postseason, Cespedes is not a bad outfielder, said one American League scout. He has a solid arm and has the range to make difficult catches. The scout said to disregard how poorly Cespedes played during the World Series against the Royals, because he believed he was playing with a bad shoulder.
"This guy is a good outfielder," the scout said. "He has a rifle for an arm. He can go get the ball. He is among the best in the game."
The question is, if the Nationals are able to sign Cespedes, where would he play? Currently, they have a starting outfield -- on paper anyway -- of Jayson Werth in left, Revere in center and Harper in right. If Cespedes joined the club, he would likely play center field, while Revere would play left. Revere has a below-average arm.
It seems that Werth would be the odd man out because he is coming off his worst year as a member of the Nats, caused by shoulder and wrist injuries, and he will turn 37 in May. He also had a tough time adjusting to his new role in left field. It would be difficult to trade Werth because he is due $42 million over the next two seasons and has a full no-trade clause, but it's also difficult to believe that he would accept a part-time role.
Cespedes has hit .271 with 106 home runs and 367 RBIs over four seasons in the Majors with the A's, Red Sox, Tigers and Mets.