Yoenis Cespedes Is Getting What He Deserves

The Mets are paying their star $27.5 million over the next four years. It's a lot, but what a star is worth can't be measured in dollars alone.
November 29, 2016, 10:45pm
When you're paid as hell. Photo by Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

I hate the screaming car commercial man. I am not proud of it, because hate is not the sort of emotion you feel proud about and because there are a near-infinite number of more deserving objects for my ire. The entire world is on fire with cruelty and infidelity and loss, the sun hasn't come up in the city where I live for like three consecutive weeks, and the heat in our apartment isn't working. I have bigger problems than the bellowing hambone dude from the local-cable used car ads and his inability to find his eye-line. And so, in the interest of moving forward and in the spirit of friendship, I offer this to the terrible screaming man from the terrible used car ads: I really believed he was excited to see Yoenis Cespedes in the commercial in which the two appear together.

So let's focus on that. Not on screaming man's performance—and not on Cespedes' performance either, please, which honestly makes Derek Jeter look like Paul Giamatti by comparison—but on the fact that Cespedes is the sort of baseball player who can convincingly inspire awe in other adults. This is not an especially precise metric for measuring a player's worth, although it's hard to say that it's worse than counting up RBI or whatever. But it is also a real and identifiable thing, and if it's not the biggest or best reason that the Mets agreed on Tuesday to pay Yoenis Cespedes $110 million over the next four seasons, it would be foolish to pretend it isn't at least part of the calculus. This quality is a tough thing to pin down, let alone quantify with the sort of precision that contemporary front offices demand, but it's also impossible to miss and frankly silly to deny.

It is his singular skill for denting and damaging elusive and fast-moving baseball pitches that will earn Cespedes an average of $27.5 million over the span of his deal. But it's the other thing, the old-fashioned and overstated and awe-ing quality that rides over all of it, that made the deal a necessity for his team. It's that last bit that makes him worth it, even if Cespedes doesn't quite earn every one of those $110 million dollars on the field. This is easier to say when it's not your $110 million on the line—honestly, I don't even know where my $110 million even are—but it is telling how near to unanimity the otherwise fractious Mets fan community was in saying it.

The Mets are an organization that spent the better part of a decade lost not so much in mediocrity as a sort of toxic and untrustworthy ambiguity; the teams were stagnant and mostly lousy, but bigger questions regarding not just the executive competence but the basic financial solvency of the owners tended to overwhelm all that. It wasn't so much that the Mets lost more than they won, although that didn't help matters any more than you might expect. It's that the extent of the team's troubles was so maddeningly hard to parse; beyond the fact that Howard Megdal's reporting was almost always right and the front office's official line on things like payroll flexibility was always, always unconvincing, it was tough to know what to believe.

It is not saying too much to say that the team's acquisition of Cespedes at the trade deadline last season changed all this. Cespedes hit like crazy and the team was various shades of dreamlike before regressing into a late-October shipwreck, but both in the giddy fog of that run and after there was a new believability to it all. These sorts of streaks happen, if not quite every year then at least often enough for people invested enough to dream on them. Teams catch the holy ghost and whirlwind through months in inexplicable states of grace, and sometimes do not awaken from them until they've shaken off the last torments of a post-World Series champagne hangover. The Mets nearly made it there, but there was also something about it that made sense, a sort of basic objectivity that was powered both by Cespedes' bat and the gravity of his presence. It simply became easier to believe in ridiculous things with him in the lineup, both because of the ridiculous things he routinely did, those vicious laser-guided missiles he launched, homers that left LED scoreboards gap-toothed and onlookers gape-mouthed, and because of how bizarrely reasonable that all looked when it was Yoenis Cespedes doing it. Even in the team's less successful and exponentially unluckier 2016, Cespedes made it easier to believe in various unlikely possibilities simply by dint of his own improbable talent.

What is this worth? There are different answers to this, although I am not sure that's a question that anyone but Mets executives need to worry about much. The Mets, like every big league team, are in the entertainment business; the various objective results that the team throws off in the business of delivering that entertainment are, if not quite immaterial, not the most important things, here. Yoenis Cespedes should give the Mets a better chance of winning baseball games for much of the next four seasons, and baseball's half-free market has established a price for that sort of thing. More than that, though, he will do the tougher work of sustaining, for people who desperately want to believe in it, a belief in miracles, or at least in a future that is different and brighter than the past. I am not sure there is a price we can set for that, but whatever it is, it seems worth paying.