Late in October, while the postseason was underway, two top Mets officials traveled to Manhattan to meet with Yoenis Cespedes’s agents: Brodie Van Wagenen and Kyle Thousand.
Cespedes was about to become a free agent and the Mets wanted to keep him right where he was — in the middle of their lineup. Cespedes was interested in staying in New York, too. The issue was how much money that would take.
Van Wagenen and Thousand made their case to Sandy Alderson, the Mets’ general manager, and John Ricco, the team’s assistant general manager, that it should be a lot of money, but their presentation was not a standard one. In an era in which data in sports has exploded, Van Wagenen and Thousand attempted to calculate Cespedes’s overall dollar value to the Mets, while not relying solely on his baseball statistics.
With the help of an analytics firm in Chicago, they came up with a dollar figure for the impact Cespedes had on the field, social media, team television revenues, and ticket and merchandise sales.
They even put a figure, $3.2 million, on the value of the approximately 50 tabloid back pages that had featured Cespedes over the course of 2016. Cespedes playing with flair, Cespedes hitting game-changing home runs, Cespedes driving exotic cars in spring training, Cespedes arriving for a workout on horseback. If it went on a back page of The New York Post, The Daily News or Newsday, it counted in the calculations.
From all this — which Van Wagenen and Thousand presented in a 100-page book — they came up with a bottom line: Cespedes was worth $34.7 million to the Mets in 2016, or $7.1 million more than the team had paid him.
The message was clear. The Mets, who play in a big market but are restrained in their spending, could afford an expensive — at least for them — new multiyear contract for Cespedes, arguably the most dynamic baseball player in New York. They would make it back, and more.
In the end, the Mets, the two agents and Cespedes agreed on a new four-year, $110 million deal.
It was not a huge contract by baseball standards, but for the Mets it was a big one. So the question is whether the analytics that Van Wagenen and Thousand used influenced the Mets to pay Cespedes, who will be 35 in the last year of the contract, more than they might have otherwise.
That is hard to say. The Mets, after all, knew how important Cespedes was to their club. In one and a half seasons with him batting third or fourth, they had gone to the postseason twice, including the 2015 World Series. Without Cespedes in the lineup, the Mets were nowhere near as dangerous.
When Alderson was asked recently about the strategy employed by Van Wagenen, an agent with CAA Sports, and Thousand, of Roc Nation Sports, he said he was intrigued by their presentation.
“I think the general concept that some players are worth a little more than just the sum of their plate appearances is valid,’’ Alderson said. “It has to be taken into account.’’
If nothing else, the collection of back pages made an impression on Jeff Wilpon, the Mets’ chief operating officer, who brought them up at a news conference announcing Cespedes’s re-signing.
Van Wagenen says he believes he and Thousand are onto something new and have even given their approach a name — value above replacement — which is a nod to a popular advanced statistic called wins above replacement, better known as WAR.
Van Wagenen said he wanted to give teams “a different way to look at players,’’ saying, “Whether or not teams are ready to look at it this way or not, time will tell.’’
He added that Cespedes was the first player for whom they had tried the approach, but that it would be done for others.
Agents battle one another for clients and are not exactly members of a mutual admiration society, so it was unsurprising that several, when asked about the approach used by Van Wagenen and Thousand, said they were not sure it was all that new. They also suggested — perhaps again no surprise — that Cespedes should have gotten a bigger contract.
In any case, it appears that the Mets had never before received such a presentation, one in which Van Wagenen and Thousand predicted that Cespedes would earn the club $160 million over the next four years even with season-by-season variances in his on-field numbers.
Whether he earns that much for the Mets is anyone’s guess — Alderson indicated he was skeptical about the methodology used to arrive at that figure — but spring training is nearing and not long after that Cespedes will be back in Queens, ready to attract attention, and back pages, with his home runs and jaw-dropping throws from the outfield.
“He obviously helps put butts in seats,’’ Wilpon acknowledged. “People want to see him.’’
That is commonly known as star factor, or as Van Wagenen and Thousand might put it, value above replacement.
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