As Cubs celebrated, Mets and rest of MLB were back on the clock

Bill Murray had not even poured champagne over Cubs president Theo Epstein’s head early Thursday morning when the clock started ticking in Queens.

With the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years and putting an unlikely ribbon on the 2016 MLB season, Yoenis Cespedes and his representatives were on the clock to decide his future. The Cuban slugger has until Saturday night to exercise the option in his contract to walk away from his deal with the Mets and become a free agent.

And the Mets — along with everyone in baseball — fully expect him to do so. He will become the biggest bat available on the free-agent market this winter. While the Mets hope to keep the lines of communication open with Cespedes’ representatives, they are wary of the multi-year deal worth around $100 million he is reportedly looking for.

There are several right-handed sluggers hitting the market this offseason, including Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo, which an industry source said could help the Mets bring him back without an astronomical deal.

Here are the Mets’ challengers in the Yoenis Cespedes sweepstakes

Cespedes, who almost single-handedly sparked the Mets offense to the World Series in 2015, hit .280 with 86 RBI and 31 home runs in 2016, despite playing most of the season with a right quad strain.

So the Mets will try to bring him back, but they woke with a long to-do list and a timeline on Thursday morning, the true beginning of the 2017 season.

Neil Walker, Bartolo Colon, Jerry Blevins and Alejandro De Aza all became free agents at the conclusion of the Fall Classic and the clock started ticking on the Mets’ five-day window to exclusively negotiate with them. They also had to make a final decisions on the 2017 contract options for Jay Bruce and Jon Niese and which of their free agents they wanted to make a $17.2 million qualifying offer.

No more than 7 images from any single MLB game, workout, activity or event may be used (including online and on apps) while that game, activity or event is in progress.

Yoenis Cespedes is expected to become a free agent.

(Adam Hunger/Getty Images)

By Monday at 5 p.m. teams must submit their qualifying offers and exercise options on players’ contracts.

Possible free agent relievers Mets can target

The Mets will likely make the $17.2 million qualifying offer to Walker and Cespedes, once he opts out. The players then have seven days, until Nov. 14 at a 5 p.m., to accept the one-year deal or turn it down and hit the free agency market.

Even though the second baseman’s season ended early after back surgery, he had a solid season after being traded to the Mets from the Pirates. After tying a career-high with 23 home runs and driving in 55 runs in 113 games, Walker, however, is likely to test the free agent market for the first time in his career.

Cespedes too will likely turn down the $17.2 million, one-year deal since it would be considerably less than the deal he is walking away from. The qualifying offer will give the Mets a compensation pick in the 2017 MLB amatuer draft if Walker and Cespedes sign with another team.

Despite the fact that Bruce struggled mightily in New York, the Mets are expecting to pick up his $13 million option for 2017. They could look to move him depending on what happens with Cespedes this winter, but they see his contract as an asset they cannot let just walk away.

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Niese, on the other hand, will be bought out, according to sources. The lefty who struggled after being dealt to the Pirates and was hurt after he was sent back to the Mets has a $10 million option for 2017 and a $500,000 buyout.

Chicago Cubs fans celebrate in front of Wrigley Field.

Chicago Cubs fans celebrate in front of Wrigley Field.

(Charles Rex Arbogast/AP)

The Mets have interest in two of their other free agents, but not enough to offer them over $17 million next season.

Colon has been the mainstay of the Mets rotation over the last two years, and there are some in the organization who feel they need to bring him back, despite expecting a plethora of healthy starters in 2017. The 43-year-old righthander has expressed his preference to return as a Met, but with 233 career wins he is also looking for a chance to start and take a run at Juan Marichal’s record of 243 wins, the most by a Dominican born pitcher. That will be part of the veteran righthanders decision.

While the Mets liked Blevins, who had a 2.79 ERA in 73 appearances this season, they are not sure they will be able to afford to bring back the lefty next season. Blevins is likely to get a multi-year deal on the free agent market that the Mets cannot afford.

On Tuesday, the free agent market officially opens up and then the Mets can start talking to players outside their organization.

So while Murray and Cubs fans everywhere were still celebrating early Thursday morning, the Mets and the rest of baseball were back on the clock.

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