The worst sports news almost always comes late on a Friday (just ask David Blatt), but for the countless, stressed-out Mets fans who were frantically refreshing Twitter all day long for any glint of an update about free agent Yoenis Cespedes, a snowy weekend in the Big Apple just got a lot warmer.
As reported by multiple outlets, Cespedes chose to come back to Queens on a three-year, $75 million contract that includes an opt-out after one season.
Sure, there's a very likely scenario where Cespedes departs (yet again) after this 2016 season concludes, but the fact is he will now spend at least a full season at Citi Field, where he became a folk hero last season after just 57 regular-season games (and 14 postseason games).
In a short time, Cespedes has come to represent something very foreign to Mets fans: an outside entity who delivered more than he promised. The franchise history is littered with the sour memories of big-time acquisitions who failed to capitalize on their moment in the New York spotlight, but Cespedes wiped away all that. As the Mets steadily pulled away from the Nationals in August and September, it was Cespedes' swagger that symbolized a surprising season the organization would not soon forget.
And indeed, the onus was on management -- general manager Sandy Alderson above all -- to spend the money that would be needed to put this team into a position to win again next season and down the line. With an elite pitching staff that is young and cost-controlled, the window for the Mets to compete may be smaller than people realize, and they need power bats to battle the likes of Washington, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which all have excellent core players through the lineup. So losing Daniel Murphy meant trading for Neil Walker. And a flimsy shortstop situation meant signing Asdrubal Cabrera. These were small moves, necessary though they were, but losing Cespedes would've created a vacuum in the middle of the lineup for the clearly-talented-yet-mostly-unproven Michael Conforto to fill.
For the Mets, the other benefit to retaining Cespedes is that he is not going to Washington (one of the slugger's suitors), an NL East rival that also has a surplus of outfielders but a lot more built-in power, thanks to the otherworldly talents of Bryce Harper. With Cespedes, the Mets are now comparable on offense. And if appearances mean anything, then the very clear message that Cespedes spurned Washington to return to the Mets (and for less overall money, reportedly) means that the rivalry between the two division foes will only intensify this next time around. Unlike Cubs-Cardinals or Giants-Dodgers, the Mets-Nationals showdowns haven't truly been imbued with a lot of full-on antipathy, but I bet that changes now, especially since each team will be clearly gunning for the division the second the season starts.
This offseason market, especially for outfielders, has been so weirdly delayed, it's hard to grasp that a late January signing could so dramatically alter a team's chance to compete for a World Series title, but this is what Cespedes' return has exactly done for New York. Without him, the Mets may have been in danger of falling short of the playoffs in a stacked National League. With him, they appear to be closer to a 90- or 92-win team that can compete with Washington from the get-go and have a very real chance to repeat as National League champs. The pitching was always going to be there, and now the runs will be there, too.
The season may still be more than two months away, but the winter just got a little easier for the Mets and their fans to endure. Can't wait for spring.