Putting a Value on the Future of Yoenis Cespedes

When Yoenis Cespedes suits up in April, he will very likely be playing for his fifth team in just over a 20-month period. His last 211 games have been split between four clubs. Some might try to use this as a reason to undervalue Cespedes in free agency and argue that three, perhaps four, teams have given up on him of late. Those arguments tend to miss the point, as the Oakland Athletics are prone to trade anyone, the Boston Red Sox desperately needed pitching last season while also possessing a surplus of outfielders, the Detroit Tigers fell out of the playoff race, and the New York Mets are merely prone to some unusual spending limits. The market for outfielders has been slow to develop, but with Jason Heyward off the board, we should begin to see Cespedes’ market gain some clarity.

Cespedes has certainly had an unusual couple of years, although his career as a whole has hardly been typical. Most recently with the Mets, Cespedes came to the United States from Cuba and signed a four year, $36 million contract with Oakland that would make him a free agent at the end of those four seasons. Cespedes hit well almost immediately, putting up a .292/.356/.505 line along with a 136 wRC+ in his first 540 plate appearances.

In the following two seasons, Cespedes could not reproduce the 8% walk rate of his initial season, his BABIP dropped a bit, and he settled in for two seasons of slightly above-average offense with above-average defense in left field, totaling 5.7 WAR over two seasons — with the A’s for a year and a half and then half a season with the Red Sox. Last season was Cespedes’ best season since 2012: he hit .291/.328/.542 for a 135 wRC+ that included 17 home runs in just 51 games following his trade from the Tigers to the Mets. That production led, in no small way, to the Mets’ appearance in the postseason.

In trying to determine what Cespedes will look like over the next five to seven years of a new contract, finding comps using career numbers is unlikely to yield great results. Based on how Cespedes performed at age 26 with the A’s, he was clearly ready for major league baseball. Due to the constraints of Cuba’s emigration laws, however, he was denied the opportunity to play against the game’s best players. As a result, his career numbers are unique. Focusing specifically on the most recent three years, however, we can find some interesting comparable players.

Starting from 1960, I looked at outfielders during their age-27 through age-29 seasons who produced between 8.4 and 16.4 WAR with wRC+ figures between 106 and 126. Cespedes is an impatient hitter, so I further narrowed the group by limiting it to players who recorded a walk rate under 8% during those years. Cespedes had his best year in 2015 at age 29 and has always hit for power, so I eliminated any player who failed to produce at least three wins above replacement or a .150 ISO in their age-29 season. The search yielded the following players.

Yoenis Cespedes Comps: Age-27 Through Age-29
Name PA HR BB% ISO wRC+ Off Def WAR
Sammy Sosa 1957 142 7.8 % 0.286 126 65.1 27.1 15.1
Al Oliver 1808 41 4.6 % 0.161 126 56 -1.5 12.1
Derek Bell 1926 54 6.8 % 0.165 111 31.6 22.6 11.3
Brian Jordan 1282 44 5.2 % 0.178 113 23.6 44.4 10.8
Jose Guillen 1767 82 5.2 % 0.217 124 50.1 -8.3 10.0
Mike Devereaux 1781 55 6.7 % 0.174 107 10.5 26.7 9.8
Larry Herndon 1708 48 6.1 % 0.170 121 41.3 -3.3 9.7
Kevin McReynolds 1838 78 6.7 % 0.202 126 60.3 -28.6 9.6
Jim Rice 1675 65 7.1 % 0.185 124 47 -17.2 8.8
Gary Ward 1618 50 6.7 % 0.175 109 21.9 11.3 8.7
AVERAGE 1736 66 6.3 % 0.191 119 40.7 7.3 10.6
Yoenis Cespedes 1895 83 5.5 % 0.216 116 43.3 10.9 12.4

Cespedes fits in pretty well here. He walks slightly less, hits for a bit more power, but overall, his hitting line comes up pretty close. He comes out a bit ahead on WAR, although per 600 plate appearances, the difference is not that great at 3.9 for Cespedes and 3.6 for the rest of the group.

In looking at the immediate payoff on signing Cespedes, I took the the first three years of each players’ 30s. This should yield the highest value years on a contract, as the aging process has not completely diminished the players. This is what the above group looks like for those seasons.

Yoenis Cespedes Comps: Age-30 Through Age-32
Name PA HR wRC+ Off Def WAR
Sammy Sosa 2128 177 161 169.4 -19.1 21.0
Jim Rice 2005 94 125 59.2 -9.1 12.0
Brian Jordan 1423 48 112 23.6 42.7 11.0
Al Oliver 1728 45 126 45.9 -9.6 9.6
Gary Ward 1715 41 112 25.4 4.0 8.8
Kevin McReynolds 1624 53 116 30.2 -31.9 5.6
Larry Herndon 1241 27 95 -7.2 0.2 3.4
Mike Devereaux 1325 34 84 -29.0 12.5 2.8
Jose Guillen 1560 52 98 -13.1 -29 1.1
Derek Bell 1373 35 82 -33.1 -16.5 -0.4
AVERAGE 1612 61 111 27.1 -5.6 7.5
AVG/YR 537 20 111 9 -1.9 2.5

If we assume that the 3.5 WAR average from 27 to 29 was the talent level at 29, the group as a whole follows a pretty regular decline (3.0, 2.5, 2.0) to reach 7.5 WAR as an average. We can discern three tiers over the first three years of the their 30s. Starting from the bottom, we have four busts, with no player replicating the previous annual average over the course of three seasons. Then we have a middle group of five (or four, if you want to sub-tier McReynolds), who more or less repeated the previous three seasons. Presumably any team would be happy to have those results. Then we have Sammy Sosa, who was in the middle of his monster home-run seasons. The group’ offensive and defensive numbers dropped a bit, but not alarmingly.

Moving forward past the first three seasons, we can estimate what kind of contract these players might be worth over seven seasons. Here are the players’ numbers from their age-30 through their age-36 seasons.

Yoenis Cespedes Comps: Age-30 Through Age-37
Name PA HR wRC+ Off Def WAR
Sammy Sosa 4346 315 142 229.4 -63.8 29.8
Brian Jordan 3333 114 109 39.8 65.3 21.1
Al Oliver 4236 98 128 125.6 -64.3 20.9
Jim Rice 3927 145 118 81.8 -35.5 18.1
Gary Ward 3211 79 100 -0.5 -26.0 8.1
Kevin McReynolds 2218 68 110 25.4 -33.2 6.9
Larry Herndon 1696 40 100 0.8 -9.2 4.7
Mike Devereaux 1784 42 80 -49.9 7.3 1.9
Derek Bell 1373 35 82 -33.1 -16.5 -0.4
Jose Guillen 2449 80 95 -34.6 -58.9 -1.0
AVERAGE 2857 102 106 38.5 -23.5 11.0
AVG/YR 408 15 106 5.5 -3.4 1.6

That Jose Guillen comp has to be a scary one for teams thinking about investing heavily in Cespedes, given the similarity of Guillen’s offensive numbers as well as the reliance defensively on a strong arm. There are positives above. Any team would be absolutely thrilled to sign any of the top four players to a $100 million contract: all four of them would produce worth in excess of $150 million assuming $8 million per win and 5% inflation. Every other player would be a disappointment, though. The average comes out to 11 WAR, which would be worth right around $100 million, but there is a boom or bust element present here, as one finds a 10 WAR gap between the fourth- and fifth-ranked players on that list.

We can use Steamer projections to evaluate Cespedes and apply standard aging curves, but we come up with a very similar result.

Yoenis Cespedes’ Contract Estimate — 7 yr / $97.9 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Value
2016 30 3.1 $8.0 M $24.8 M
2017 31 2.6 $8.4 M $21.8 M
2018 32 2.1 $8.8 M $18.5 M
2019 33 1.6 $9.3 M $14.8 M
2020 34 1.1 $9.7 M $10.7 M
2021 35 0.6 $10.2 M $6.1 M
2022 36 0.1 $10.7 M $1.1 M
Totals 11.2 $97.9 M
Assumptions
Value: $8M/WAR with 5.0% inflation
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

While we do not know exactly how Cespedes’ market is going to shape up, it seems unlikely that Cespedes will sign for that price. The FanGraphs crowd came up with six years and $128 million while Dave Cameron guessed seven years and $150 million to the Texas Rangers. Any team betting on Cespedes is hoping that his 2015 form is more representative of to his present true talent than his career numbers are. He does not have to be a six-win player again to be worth a big contract. Starting him in the contract table as a four-win player with a normal decline gets him above $150 million.

Cespedes has been an up-and-down player during his brief career, so it should not come as a surprise that he has considerable boom or bust potential as a free agent. If he can maintain his form for just a season or two more, he is likely to justify his contract. If his lack of walks persist and his power drops a bit, a team could regret this signing almost from the get-go. The talent is there, and the production has been fantastic, making him one of the more intriguing free agents available.



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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards. His writing also appears regularly at VivaElBirdos.com where he is an Editor.


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baseball gods
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baseball gods
5 months 14 days ago

Sosa should be removed because his aging process was altered by PEDs. The rest are good comps. Watching Cespedes on the Mets, I saw a tremendously gifted athlete with a low effort level and poor baseball instinct. As his physical abilities fade, his performance will drop rapidly, like Jose Reyes. Anything more than three years will be a disaster.

Jay
Guest
Jay
5 months 14 days ago

Yeah, this. Especially the low effort level – almost seemed like he just didn’t care sometimes and his strike zone judgement was badly exploited in the playoffs.

For once I’m kind of thankful for the Wilpons’ miserliness.

Jeff Not Sullivan
Guest
Jeff Not Sullivan
5 months 14 days ago

Um, how do you figure “low effort”? Have you seen the man swing?

Paul A.
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Paul A.
5 months 14 days ago

Not to start a whole debate, but 1) you don’t know that Sosa used PEDs, 2) you don’t know that no one else on the list used PEDs, and 3) you don’t know whether Cespedes is currently using PEDs. So there’s really no reason at all to remove Sosa from the list.

Marco
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Marco
5 months 14 days ago

This is not a court of law.

This is an exercise to decide how many millions of dollars to give to a baseball player.

If you were running a baseball team, and decided that because you couldn’t definitively prove that Sosa used PEDs, Cespedes was likely to deliver more value and wanted to pay him extra because of that I don’t think anyone would stop you.

If I were in that position, I’d probably hesitate to write that larger check.

nerf
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nerf
5 months 14 days ago

Your argument hinges on the fact that there’s no quantitative consensus that PEDs actually help performance to a non-trivial extent.

Paul A.
Guest
Paul A.
5 months 14 days ago

Or you could say, “Sosa’s value came from hitting a ton of homers, and Cespedes doesn’t have that much power, so this comp is inexact enough not to include.”

The fact is Sosa may or may not have used PEDs. Jim Rice may or may not have used PEDs. Cespedes may or may not be using PEDs. Absent a positive test and some sort of evidence that PEDs actually improve offensive performance, removing Sosa based solely on your own suspicions is simply being irrational, which is not a trait conducive for being a good GM.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 months 14 days ago

The rest of you can say what you want on technicalities or unknowns. If I’m spending my money, and its 10’s of millions, perhaps even 100+ million … I’m leaving Sosa off of the comparables list, and I’ll live with the decision of possibly making faulty assumptions and erroneous conclusions.

Then, when Cespedes averages 59 HR per season from age 30-32, then I’ll look really silly.

Dave T
Member
Dave T
5 months 14 days ago

Well said by Marco. Any GM who is making his decisions by placing a lot of weight on PED era aging curves – especially for power hitters – is rightfully open to a lot of criticism.

nerf
Guest
nerf
5 months 14 days ago

There is literally no way to know how much PEDs helped Sosa. There is also literally no way to know that other players HAVEN’T used PEDs, so we just have to take their raw numbers at face value. We also don’t know how amphetamines helped players in the 70s, but if we did, should we knock the numbers for Chris Davis and other players with supposed ADHD down a peg?

Numbers are number are numbers, and analysis that uses anything other than numbers won’t be accurate.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
5 months 14 days ago

This is pretty silly. If you want to say that Sosa is a HOF player because everybody else was using, or something along those lines, then I can see why you would feel that way. But if you’re a GM who might sign someone to a mega-contract, you can’t just ignore the entire PED aspect because there’s no scientific proof that it helps players, or because you don’t know who used and who didn’t.

It’s entirely fair for a GM to have almost complete confidence that Sosa was taking something that would lead to a suspension in today’s game. If you used Sosa as a comp and took his raw numbers at face value, your going to have a really bad team filled with overpaid players in a couple years.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
5 months 14 days ago

I’m going to say this is bull. We have a TON of real, medical evidence that not only shows that PEDs improve performance, but also the physiology of how they help improve performance.

Simply put, it improves recovery. It would be unlikely, perhaps even impossible, for steroids not to help performance in any activity that is enhanced by improved recovery.

No, we cannot reduce the “assistance” to a solitary, numerical value and apply it to everyone.

We all get that the same amount of steroids affect different individuals in various amounts, right? Humans have varying amount of steroid receptors and things of that nature. So, even if you and I both take the same amount of the same steroid for the same amount of time, it could/would affect us differently.

Just because there is no clear, well-defined, and well-measured standard that is applicable to all people equally, does not mean that their is no knowledge or no evidence.

We have to get past this.

Also, we know exactly what greenies are. We know what those chemicals do. We know how that affects human behavior and performance. We do not know the exact % of improved performance they cause in all individuals. That, however, doesn’t mean that you can’t informally deduct some of one’s performance for them using amphetamines.

GOD
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GOD
5 months 14 days ago

I know everything, and this argument still literally doesn’t matter.

esdrtfyu
Guest
esdrtfyu
5 months 11 days ago

There is absolutely no change whatsoever in how the Phillies are run.

Bill Giles put the ownership group together with people who think like him 35 years ago. Guess what? Bill Giles is still there. He took part in the hiring of MacPhail and Klentak both. He was at the press conference announcing the hiring of Klentak.

35 Years.

Jim Thome and Cliff Lee

That’s it.

35 Years.

Carlos Ruiz and Maikel Franco, the only two starting quality players signed out of Latin America. Ruiz was signed out of Panama for eight thousand dollars. Need that in numerical form? $8,000- Eight Stacks.

Maikel Franco was signed for $100,000- That’s one hundred thousand American dollars. One hundred Stacks.

The Red Sox paid $63 million to sign Yoan Moncada. The Phillies paid $108,000- to sign both Carlos Ruiz and Maikel Franco.

Two real free agents and two starting position players from Latin America signed for nothing.

The Phillies Way is unchanged. They will sit in the cellar until they collect enough free talent in the MLB Plantation Slave Auction held every June. These young slave/intern players will be exploited to the max by the Phillies bloodsucking ownership cabal. For seven years they will make these bloodsucking criminals massive profits. If a few become fan favorites and the crowds are still huge as they near free agency then they will be signed to short, team friendly deals. If any have slipped through their screening process and turn out to be normal players seeking long contracts they will be demonized and booted out the door.

The Phillies after telling lies to their fan base from 2012 onward finally admitted they were “rebuilding”. The truth of the matter is they are already planning their next rebuild as they conduct this one.

THAT is The Phillies Way.

Google: Kevin Maitan FREE_AEC
ˆˆˆ

Pinstripe Wizard
Member
Pinstripe Wizard
5 months 14 days ago

Cespedes will be an interesting case study on the FA market. Last year, the narrative seemed to be that right handed power was being over paid. Will that continue to be the case? As far as power hitters, Chris Davis apparently had a 7/$150M contract on the table. Steamer is way low on Davis because of his awful 2014, but I think most people would probably put him at 4.5-5.0 WAR next season. Cespedes is coming off a nearly 7 win season, but he’s probably closer to a 3.5-4.0 player. He also plays a tougher position and again is right handed which is apparently something in high demand. They are both around the same age as well. I think it’ll be interesting to see if the right handed aspect gets him close to Davis money, when in reality, Davis is the superior player IMO.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
5 months 14 days ago

Regarding Davis, 2014 was his second most recent season. I think it’s perfectly valid for Steamer to weight it pretty heavily, and while I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis puts up 4.5-5.0 WAR, I don’t think that should be the expectation. He didn’t surpass it by that much last year, and he’s only surpassed it one other time (2013).

Over the last 3 years (since he became good), he’s averaged 4.5 WAR, and that was his 27-29 seasons.

Pinstripe Wizard
Member
Pinstripe Wizard
5 months 14 days ago

Yes, but if you consider that the bad year he didn’t have his TUE, and we assume that he has that going forward, you kinda have to throw that year out.

Hollywood Hills
Guest
5 months 14 days ago

I’ve seen Chris Davis offered:

Less than $150 million.

$150 million and not a penny more

$150 million +

$154 million

and finally….for now

$160 million

All within a one week time frame.

Rumors and facts are quite a bit different.

As for Davis vs Cespedes, Davis best comp is Ryan Howard and Howard is much better at the same age.

I would definitely sign Cespedes over Justin Upton even if Cespedes contract was ten percent more. Cespedes looks like a player who will age well.

Pinstripe Wizard
Member
Pinstripe Wizard
5 months 14 days ago

But would you sign Cespedes to a bigger deal than Davis?

Also Davis was better in his age 27 & 29 seasons than Howard. Remember he didn’t have his TUE his age 28 season.

Age 27:

Howard 3.1 WAR, 135 wRC+
Davis 7.0 WAR, 168 wRC+

Age 29:

Howard 4.5 WAR, 139 wRC+
Davis 5.6 WAR, 147 wRC+

Now the gap at 29 isn’t that large, but the age 27 gap is significant. Howard was never a great player after his age 29 season, but he was at least replacement level for two years until he tore that Achilles. I don’t know that we should assume that Davis will never have another good year just because of Ryan Howard.

While mostly insignificant, Davis is a better defender and baserunner than Howard as well.

Werthless
Member
Werthless
5 months 14 days ago

“I looked at outfielders during their age-27 through age-29 seasons who produced between 8.4 and 12.4 WAR with wRC+ figures between 106 and 126.”

Why is that the WAR range, when Cespedes was worth 12.4? Perhaps it’s a typo, since Sosa is included with a 15.1 WAR. Maybe it should be 16.4?

Dan
Guest
Dan
5 months 14 days ago

I noticed that as well. Sosa outside the stated range of the search, but as you point out probably a typo on what the range was supposed to be.

Phil
Guest
Phil
5 months 14 days ago

I would guess teams are much higher on Cespedes’ defense that the Guillen comp would tell you… the latter never graded out very well, despite his arm. Cespedes does just have that “smell test” or “gut feel” of a guy who will have a couple great seasons and become Matt Kemp fairly quickly.

Matthew Murphy
Member
5 months 14 days ago

When I was looking at comps for Cespedes a couple months ago, one of the top hits was Alfonso Soriano — a low BB%, high-power guy with an average strikeout rate. (It looks like he would have been included in your list, but he only put up 2.4 WAR in his age 29 season).
Both of these guys are a bit more volatile, as their offensive outputs are driven largely by their BABIP and how many of their fly balls leave the park. Here are some of the key metrics:

Player (Age) ——– BB% — K% — ISO – AVG – BABIP – wRC+ – WAR
Cespedes (26-29) – 6.1% – 21% – .215 – .271 — .304 — 121 — 15.4
Soriano (26-29) —- 4.5% – 19% – .233 – .285 — .308 — 116 — 15.3
Soriano (30-36) —- 5.9% – 22% – .230 – .270 — .301 — 111 — 23.1

Granted, it’s only one player, but while Soriano definitely had his down seasons (negative WAR in 2009 when he only hit 20 homers, 1.1 WAR in 2011 when his BABIP was .266), he maintained most of his power and stayed above-average at the plate. In the age 30-36 seasons (where Cespedes would sign away with a 7-year deal) he averaged 3.3 WAR per year.

Only Glove, No Love
Guest
Only Glove, No Love
5 months 14 days ago

“A bit more volatile”? Heh.

BJordan
Guest
BJordan
5 months 14 days ago

Just wanted to point out Brian Jordan was a pretty good baseball player – no one ever brings him up

Jason G
Guest
Jason G
5 months 14 days ago

I guess this all means the A’s almost certainly aren’t going to re-sign him, which from an emotional standpoint as an A’s fan is disappointing, but from an objective standpoint it’s not surprising (or worrisome) in the slightest.

Rangers
Guest
Rangers
5 months 14 days ago

How much more value does Cespedes hold rather than Gordon/Upton solely due to the fact of keeping the draft pick? This seems to be a rather under appreciated when choosing a free agent.

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