Opt-outta here? Mets brace for Yoenis Cespedes' expected free agency

NEW YORK -- Although the New York Mets departed the postseason earlier than they hoped with a wild-card loss Wednesday, it certainly was an accomplishment to play meaningful October baseball, considering the roster's decimation because of injuries.

Now, though, the focus shifts to the offseason, beginning with Yoenis Cespedes, who is expected to opt out of his contract.

The Mets' free agents are Jerry Blevins, Bartolo Colon, Alejandro De Aza, Kelly Johnson, James Loney, Jonathon Niese (after his option is declined), Fernando Salas and Neil Walker.

Here's a primer on what to expect this offseason:

1. Opt-outta here? The Mets fully expect Cespedes will opt out of his contract five days after the World Series, because that is the financially responsible thing to do. Team officials sound as convinced as a year ago that they will be unable to retain Cespedes, given the type of payday he might command elsewhere.

If Cespedes remained with the Mets under his current terms, it would be the equivalent of agreeing to a two-year, $47.5 million contract on the open market. Cespedes probably can at least double that elsewhere on a four- or five-year deal, most likely back with an American League team.

That said, Cespedes enjoys the Mets and New York, and very much wants to remain.

The Mets will have exclusive negotiating rights for the remainder of this month, because Cespedes would not opt out until after the World Series. He collected $27.5 million this season on what would be a three-year, $75 million deal if completed.

The belief is that the Mets will offer a similar arrangement to Cespedes' current contract -- a front-loaded, short-term deal with an opt-out after 2017, which would give Cespedes extra incentive to perform. General manager Sandy Alderson generally is averse to longer-term deals, and there is particular concern that Cespedes might not provide maximum effort for the duration of a lengthy contract without the carrot of an opt-out clause.

Baseball executives believe Cespedes favors getting money up front, so perhaps a front-loaded, shorter-term deal could work, despite the Mets' pessimism.

In addition to AL clubs, baseball executives speculate that the Miami Marlins might be a player for Cespedes if he reaches free agency. Cespedes presumably would be well-received in South Florida's Cuban community, which is reeling following the death of Jose Fernandez. And although the Marlins already have a solid outfield with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, they previously have shown a willingness to trade Ozuna.

2. Bringing Bruce back: Even without his final-week surge during the regular season, Jay Bruce was going to have his $13 million option for 2017 picked up. Bruce provides a quality hedge against Cespedes' departure and can always be traded if Cespedes returns and there ends up being a surplus of corner outfielders. Remember, Curtis Granderson is under contract for another season, and there's little need for Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo to head back to the minors. The Mets also have Juan Lagares signed through 2019.

3. Walker in the park? Assuming Walker has no setback from last month's surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back, the Mets intend to make him a qualifying offer, which is estimated to be worth $17 million for one year. Team officials even would entertain a multiyear deal with Walker, 31, which is modestly surprising, given they let Daniel Murphy depart a year ago at a comparable age once he declined a qualifying offer.

It does not seem out of the realm of possibility that Walker accepts the qualifying offer. He might need to restore his worth after back surgery to set up a bigger contract the following offseason. And Murphy received only a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Washington Nationals last winter, so the value of the qualifying offer might be enticing.

Walker does seem to like being around the Mets. Even following back surgery and with a newborn baby daughter at home, Walker spent plenty of time around the Mets late in the season, which illustrates an attachment to this group.

4. Bart of the deal: Colon originally was supposed to be assigned to the bullpen during the summer, once Zack Wheeler returned from Tommy John surgery. That obviously never materialized, and Colon logged 191⅔ innings at age 43.

Guess what? There's a pretty decent chance Colon is back again next year. Even with Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo establishing themselves and providing a rotation safety net, it makes sense to re-sign Colon at a salary comparable to this year's $7.25 million. He's a mentor in the clubhouse. And the bottom line is this: What's the likelihood Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard and Wheeler all will be healthy at any given point next year? Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), deGrom (ulnar nerve) and Matz (bone spur) all will be coming off surgeries, and Wheeler has not pitched in a major league game since 2014.

Colon already has expressed a willingness to work out of the bullpen, providing flexibility if everyone is healthy. And the Mets used a dozen starting pitchers in 2016. So the Mets are more than receptive to bringing Colon back, and the role will resolve itself.

5. First thing's first: Tendering Lucas Duda might have seemed a risky proposition had he been unable to return at all this season from a stress fracture in his lower back. But the fact that Duda returned in mid-September after a four-month absence and has shown promise all but assures the Mets will tender him a contract in December. Because of arbitration rules, his salary should be close to this year's $6.725 million.

Duda provides raw power, and that's always valuable, even if 2016 witnessed the second-most homers per game across baseball in the sport's history.

The unfortunate byproduct of bringing back Duda would be the likely departure of Loney, who has been productive but would be duplicative as a fellow lefty-hitting first baseman. Don't discount the Mets giving Conforto a first-base glove this winter, either. That would provide a hedge should another injury issue arise with Duda. It also would provide flexibility to alleviate a potentially crowded outfield.