After watching the majority of above average outfield free agents get plucked off the market over the course of this offseason (the most recent case being Justin Upton, who agreed to a six-year, 132.75 million dollar contract with the Tigers), Yoenis Cespedes is currently in the process of determining his fate for the 2016 season and beyond.
Reportedly, the two teams most in the running to nab Cespedes are the New York Mets and the division rival Washington Nationals (though the Yankees have been mentioned as well).
As with every team around baseball, either team would be a better version of itself with Cespedes as part of their everyday lineup in 2016, but in this case I think the choice could wind up being more important than usual. With the Mets and Nationals going back and forth in the division last season, all the way until the latter part of the year, I truly believe that the team that gets Cespedes will be the team that holds the advantage to win the National League East division.
Back on July 31st of last year, the National held a two game lead over the Mets and were seemingly on their way to the postseason as had been expected from Opening Day. But a trade for Yoenis Cespedes by the Mets ultimately gave them what they needed to surpass the Nationals and never look back.
In 57 games with the Mets, Cespedes blasted 17 home runs and drove in 44 runs, all while hitting a cool .287. With Cespedes leading the way, New York wound up taking what was supposed to be an easy division win by the Nats and turning it a complete 180 degrees into a cakewalk division win by the Mets — an outcome that truly stunned many around the baseball world.
Sure, the Mets had a lot go right last season, and the Nationals had almost everything go wrong, but you can’t deny the impact that the lone presence of Cespedes brought to the Mets.
With the Phillies still seemingly lost heading into 2016, the Braves working on rebuilding their club and the Marlins being much improved but still likely a third place team at best, the division will inevitably go to either the Nationals or the Mets.
On paper, the two teams are quite even. While I would give the edge to the Mets in terms of pitching staff (with guys like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard), I would declare the Nationals the better lineup, with tons of pop including the 2015 National League Most Valuable Player, Bryce Harper, who hit 42 home runs and batted .330 a year ago. The difference maker, in my mind, for both teams comes down to one free agent: Yoenis Cespedes.
With the National League East division set to be just as competitive as ever between the Mets and the Nationals, whoever can win the Cespedes sweepstakes (given the reports are correct, and he does end up with one of the two) will hold the upper hand heading into 2016 to win the division. As history has shown since the introduction of the second wild card in 2012, winning the division is extremely important in securing a long playoff run in October.