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Outfielders come off the market

by Matt Smith

The top two remaining MLB free agents have come off the market in the past couple of days and so it’s worth revisiting the off-season review to take these signings into account.

The Detroit Tigers have firmly pushed themselves up into second place in the AL Central division, and become a real Wild Card threat, with the addition of outfielder Justin Upton on a six-year contract worth $132.75m (a shade over £93m, or approximately £300k per week).

We all know the story here: the Tigers’ 86 year old owner Mike Illitch has once again dipped into his savings and upped the payroll to try and win a World Series for Detroit.

The only knock on the signing is that Upton adds another right-handed bat to a lineup that already leaned heavily that way. It makes them a little more vulnerable against good right-handed pitching, yet, as Upton himself noted at the press conference to announce the deal, Miguel Cabrera doesn’t mind which hand the ball comes out of.

It rounds off a good off-season for the Tigers, one much needed after they fell down the trapdoor in 2015. The need for Cabrera and Victor Martinez to stay healthy remains; however they do at least have another good hitter now to help cover in case they miss any games.

The other major outfielder signing hasn’t been confirmed as yet, but the announcement of Yoenis Cespedes’ return to the New York Mets is just a formality.

Like many others, I had questioned whether the Mets’ owners would actually go out and spend some money to back up their great young pitching. The market has worked favourably for the Mets in the end. It looks like Cespedes never got the big offer he was hoping for and was therefore open to a return to New York that could give him another bite at the free agent cherry in a year’s time when there will be less free agent competition.

Although the headline figures on the reported deal are three years for $75m, only a bad injury or collapse in performance is going to prevent him from pocketing a $27.5m salary (£19.2m, or £369k per week) this season and then opting out of the remaining two years of the contract.

That should work well for both parties. Cespedes is a difficult player to rank because his highlight reel exploits (home-run hitting spurts, ridiculous throws from the outfield etc) tend to see him elevated to the position of a star attraction, even though his overall contribution in a season shows him to be a good rather than great player.

Adding a good player is always a good idea though. The claims that he turned down a larger offer from division rivals the Washington Nationals makes it all the sweeter for the Mets.

I’m not sure it tips the balance either way to any significant extent. The Mets’ roster still had a decent margin in hand over the Nationals on paper without Cespedes and, even though it would have made for an interesting story, adding him to Washington’s lineup at the expense of the Mets would not have made me elevate them ahead of the reigning champions.

That’s not to say the Nationals couldn’t put together a great season, with or without Cespedes, just that it’s hard to bank on them doing so following last year’s disappointment (and describing it as a ‘failure’ wouldn’t be overly harsh in the circumstances). Cespedes joins Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist in resisting the Nationals’ overtures this off-season. There’s a sense of negativity around Washington at the moment, not just from Jonathan Papelbon’s continued presence either, and, more than most, they look like a team that needs to have a good April if they are to have a good season.

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