Yoenis Cespedes didn’t sign a bad contract, but he certainly signed a surprising one. With Chris Davis and Jason Heyward receiving more than $150 million, and Justin Upton in the picture with a $130 million, it would figure that Yoenis Cespedes might line up somewhere in that range. Perhaps not above Upton, but certainly above $100 million. Consider: the Cuban outfielder just produced a career year at age 29 which saw him record 35 home runs and nearly seven wins above replacement. Furthermore, wasn’t eligible for a qualifying offer, meaning a signing club wouldn’t have the burden of sacrificing a draft pick. The contract he did sign with the Mets pays him $75 million over three years, which seems like a small total guarantee relative to the rest of the free-agent class, but the opt-out and the opportunity to return to free agency next year does provide Cespedes with another opportunity to cash in.
If Cespedes decides to stick with his current contract, he’ll be a free agent entering his age-33 season after making $75 million dollars. While that is not the ideal scenario for him, if he is still playing well at that time, he might end up making close to the amount Justin Upton is to be paid over the next six years. If Cespedes plays poorly over the next three years, he will at least have his $75 million — not what he would have hoped, but also preferable to just a one-year pillow contract.
The best case scenario for Cespedes is another solid, even if not spectacular, year that allows him to opt out of his current contract after earning $27.5 million with the New York Mets this season. Due to an unusual clause in his first contract signed after coming over from Cuba, Cespedes was allowed to become a free agent this season despite only four years of service time. This would have prevented the Tigers from making a qualifying offer to Cespedes even if he was not traded mid-season. Although Cespedes will still be short of six years of service time to become a free agent, the Mets will be able make him a qualifying offer should Cespedes opt out of his new contract, per Ken Rosenthal.
In terms of production, Cespedes is unlikely to match his 2015 campaign, which means next season Cespedes will be one year older, coming off a worse year, and attached to a qualifying offer. That is not exactly a trifecta for Cespedes in the good news department. The variable likely to benefit Cespedes is the free-agent class next season. This year’s class is the best of at least the last decade. Determining Cespedes’ value is different depending on whether one looks at last year’s production or next year’s expected production. The chart below shows the best players in this year’s free-agent class with 2015 WAR and 2016 Steamer projections:
|Age||2015 WAR||2016 Proj WAR|
Cespedes had the great 2015 season, but the projections have not completely bought in to his great year. Breaking it down to key position players available this winter, we see something similar when we look at numbers over the past three seasons.
All the free agents who received $100 million contracts this season offered something that Cespedes didn’t. Davis comes with incredible power. Heyward brought youth and an unmatched all-around game. Upton brought more consistent offense as well as relative youth compared to Cespedes. As a result, those players proved to be more desirable. Next year’s class should provide less of an impediment.
This season, there were three outfielders with projections of at least 3.4 WAR for next year to go along with Chris Davis’ 3.2, and all players were 32 years old or younger. Add in medium-range options like Denard Span, Dexter Fowler, and Gerardo Parra and a trade market including Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, and Andre Ethier, and it’s easy to see how Cespedes might have been crowded out a bit. Next year, there are no position players under the age of 35 who project to exceed the 3.2 projected for Chris Davis.
For the position players, these are likely the most desirable players to hit the market next year.
|Age||2015 WAR||2016 Projection|
The list above is fairly exhaustive. Brandon Moss, Michael Saunders, Mitch Moreland, and Jon Jay could have been included near the bottom as well, but this class is thin at the top and lacks depth throughout. Jose Bautista and Adrian Beltre will likely be desirable next season, but their ages will limit the contracts they receive. Instead of Jason Heyward and Justin Upton, it is Carlos Gomez and Josh Reddick, instead of a 30-year-old Chris Davis, it is a soon-to-be 34-year-old Edwin Encarnacion. After that the class evaporates with two players who accepted qualifying offers this season in Colby Rasmus and Matt Wieters as more desirable options this year.
Of course, the deep pitching this year might have affected the amount of money available to sign free agents. Both Zack Greinke and David Price topped $200 million, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann beat $100 million, and four more received at least $70 million. Those eight players came less than $17 million from hitting $1 billion on the offseason. While average pitching gets paid in the free-agent market, there is still not a lot out there.
|Age||2015 WAR||2016 Projection|
Next year is a good year if you want to get a closer on the free-agent market, but if you want an a pitcher approaching an ace level, it is Stephen Strasburg or bust. James Shields would need to opt out of his contract. The same holds true for Scott Kazmir, who got $48 million in the current market. Brett Anderson accepted the qualifying offer this year. The top of next year’s class looks a lot more like the middle of this year’s, and the middle next year looks a lot like the lower-tier options from this offseason.
Whether Yoenis Cespedes can capitalize on next year’s class is still up to him as well as some luck. A productive, injury-free season that comes anywhere close to approaching this past season, and Cespedes can position himself as the best position player available when it comes to committing dollars long-term. When it came to looking at comps for Cespedes, there was a considerable boom-or-bust possibility with a value right around $100 million, but another productive year could eliminate a lot of doubts and improve his projections. In his ideal scenario, Cespedes probably would have signed a $100 million contract already, but his play will dictate whether he can improve on that number considerably against a much weaker free-agent class.
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