Yoenis Cespedes Is Worth an Investment

One year ago, Yoenis Cespedes was coming off an MVP-like season, having just turned 30 years old. It seemed inevitable he’d sign a large contract. Nevertheless, his market failed to develop. Instead, Cespedes opted to settle with the Mets on a three-year deal for $75 million, an agreement that also included an opt-out clause.

Now, entering the offseason, Cespedes isn’t merely a year older but he’s also coming off a season in which he produced roughly half the wins of his 2015 campaign. Given his age and performance in 2016, it would be reasonable to think his market and future would be less certain than a year ago. In a different market and a different level of certainty regarding his future, though, Cespedes is set to receive the contract most thought he would sign last season.

Determining a player’s value in a vacuum can be a different thing than determining the contract he’s actually likely to receive. For the most part, players in free agency receive more than they’re actually worth; the bidding process rewards/punishes the highest bidder, which is presumably the team with the highest valuation of the player. Cespedes was ranked as the top free agent by Dave Cameron this offseason, and both Cameron and the crowd have estimated that Cespedes will receive a five-year contract worth about $120 million. Now, let’s figure out how much Cespedes will actually be worth over the course of that contract.

The first, and perhaps easiest, thing to do is take Cespedes’ projection for next year, and then add a normal aging curve. Assuming an $8.5 million-per-win value in this offseason’s free-agent market, such contract would look like this.

Yoenis Cespedes’ Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $91.6 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2017 31 3.0 $8.5 M $25.5 M
2018 32 2.5 $8.9 M $22.3 M
2019 33 2.0 $9.4 M $18.7 M
2020 34 1.5 $9.8 M $14.8 M
2021 35 1.0 $10.3 M $10.3 M
Totals 10.0 $91.6 M

Assumptions

Value: $8.5M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

Immediately, we see a $30 million difference between Cespedes’ projected value and the actual dollar estimates supplied both by Cameron and the crowd. So we begin there. But that also doesn’t necessarily mean that Cespedes will be overpaid were he to receive the figures provided by Cameron and the crowd. There are other ways to estimate Cespedes’ future value, including a deeper examination of some comparable players, to see how they performed from ages 31 through 35.

Last year, I performed a similar analysis of Cespedes. At that time, I arrived at a likely value of $98 million over seven years. Chopping off a year didn’t do much to the value, as a six-year deal would have put him at around $97 million. Last year, Cespedes’ comps showed considerable boom-or-bust potential, making him a risky investment. While Cespedes didn’t repeat his fantastic 2015 season this year, he put up another very good offensive performance. That performance, at age 30, could actually make him more valuable now despite an inferior year.

To find some comps for Cespedes, I looked at outfielders since 1961 who recorded a WAR between 11.0 and 15.5 from ages 28 through 30 (Cespedes was at 13.2) and within 20% of Cespedes’ total of 1864 plate appearances. Within that group, I then looked for players who’d recorded a wRC+ within 10 of Cespedes’ 126, produced an ISO of at least .150, and who played a full season at age 30, recording a wRC+ within 20 of Cespedes’ 135. That assortment of criteria produced 17 total players. Their age-28 through age-30 stats appear below.

Yoenis Cespedes Comps: Age-28 Through Age-30
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Def WAR
Carlos Beltran 1903 90 0.272 0.356 0.507 122 16.7 15.2
Sammy Sosa 2128 165 0.282 0.348 0.587 132 -0.3 14.9
Kirby Puckett 1990 45 0.333 0.373 0.488 135 -8.6 14.3
Curtis Granderson 1929 95 0.253 0.339 0.492 120 7.4 13.7
Lou Brock 2146 39 0.292 0.334 0.442 122 -21.8 13.7
Rocky Colavito 2080 93 0.273 0.365 0.486 130 -4.4 13.6
Gary Ward 1951 68 0.284 0.333 0.467 116 28.6 13.4
Billy Williams 2138 87 0.281 0.343 0.481 130 -27.8 13.1
Kirk Gibson 1759 81 0.278 0.369 0.501 134 -14.7 13
Jim Rice 1822 80 0.301 0.358 0.501 132 -1.8 12.7
Jeromy Burnitz 1848 98 0.271 0.372 0.534 130 -3.2 12.4
Tony Oliva 1835 59 0.297 0.353 0.48 135 -5.2 12.3
Jim Northrup 1821 70 0.274 0.341 0.471 129 4.5 12.3
Felipe Alou 1661 52 0.279 0.322 0.455 120 11.7 11.3
Andy Van Slyke 1678 43 0.262 0.344 0.427 120 8.9 11.1
Kevin McReynolds 1800 73 0.276 0.338 0.467 129 -18.3 11
Jeff Conine 1728 69 0.304 0.37 0.508 130 -6 11
AVERAGE 1895 77 0.283 0.35 0.487 127 -2 12.9
Yoenis Cespedes 1864 88 0.277 0.326 0.506 126 1.9 13.2

A number of Cespedes’ comps from last year’s version of this exercise appear here, as well: Sosa, Ward, Rice, and McReynolds were all present. By removing Cespedes’ 2.4 WAR season from 2013 and replacing it with an age-30 season at 3.2 WAR, Cespedes’ comps actually improve. The table below documents how the players above performed from age 31 through age 35.

Yoenis Cespedes Comps: Age-31 Through Age-35
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Def WAR
Sammy Sosa 3210 238 0.295 0.39 0.612 151 -46.7 25.9
Billy Williams 3408 148 0.307 0.379 0.522 138 -62.1 22.2
Carlos Beltran 2535 98 0.287 0.373 0.498 133 -8.4 18.6
Felipe Alou 3168 70 0.296 0.336 0.425 115 -10.7 15.8
Kirby Puckett 3123 99 0.315 0.363 0.492 124 -43.9 15.3
Lou Brock 3553 33 0.306 0.367 0.404 114 -85 13.6
Curtis Granderson 2898 126 0.238 0.334 0.447 116 -37 13.1
Jim Rice 3010 103 0.289 0.349 0.457 116 -34.3 12.6
Tony Oliva 2340 74 0.31 0.352 0.471 124 -30.7 11.5
Kirk Gibson 1883 60 0.254 0.346 0.42 120 -14.3 10.5
Jeromy Burnitz 2998 152 0.245 0.336 0.476 105 -19.4 9.9
Andy Van Slyke 1786 34 0.285 0.354 0.431 113 -5 8.8
Rocky Colavito 1980 72 0.25 0.345 0.415 122 -38.1 7.4
Jeff Conine 2347 65 0.28 0.346 0.433 104 -25.8 6.2
Jim Northrup 2146 55 0.27 0.339 0.411 112 -36.6 6.1
Gary Ward 2208 49 0.27 0.321 0.396 94 -18.7 4
Kevin McReynolds 1617 44 0.252 0.331 0.417 105 -29.8 3.2
AVERAGE 2600 89 0.279 0.351 0.455 118 -32.1 12
ANNUAL AVG 520 18 0.279 0.351 0.455 118 -6.4 2.4

That boom-or-bust nature of last year’s profile has been reduced after a solid 2016 season. Eleven of the 17 players who appear here would have returned at least $90 million in value over the course of a five-year deal; only a handful of players would develop into major busts over those seasons. We see a 30% shot at a significant surplus over a $120 million contract. Free agency isn’t full of bargains — and Cespedes isn’t likely to become one, either — but he is more likely to provide full value over the course of a contract. Also encouraging: these players averaged a 3.8 WAR in their age-31 seasons.

It might seem slightly illogical that Cespedes could play worse, get a year older, and then have his value increase, but that’s what has happened here. The value of steady play and the value of certainty might have been a bit underrated last year when contracts were predicted. A 135 wRC+ looks like an anomaly when the prior two seasons ended in 110 and 102 marks, respectively. When it’s followed by a relatively solid season, however, it naturally seems more likely to be repeated. Even if Cespedes takes a step back offensively in the near future and regresses closer to his career 123 wRC+, his future production feels safer to project.

If we take that 12 WAR figure and apply normal aging curves, we come up with a deal like this:

Yoenis Cespedes’ Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $110.4 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2017 31 3.4 $8.5 M $28.9 M
2018 32 2.9 $8.9 M $25.9 M
2019 33 2.4 $9.4 M $22.5 M
2020 34 1.9 $9.8 M $18.7 M
2021 35 1.4 $10.3 M $14.5 M
Totals 12.0 $110.4 M

Assumptions

Value: $8.5M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

Cespedes was basically paid what he was worth this past season for the Mets — and, while he signed for less than what he’d planned for last season, a contract in the range of Cameron’s estimate will pay him nearly $140 million over six seasons, which is right in line with what many expected last year. He still might not be worth the $120 million that Cameron and the crowd predict, but he’s certainly a lot closer to it this year than last.

We hoped you liked reading Yoenis Cespedes Is Worth an Investment by Craig Edwards!

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Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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Angelsjunky
Member
Angelsjunky

The problem I have with the enormously high $ per WAR numbers you use on this site is that it only takes into account free agents, so is artificially high. No team in the majors is actually built entirely from free agents, and those in the past that take that approach almost always fail. Successful teams tend to be build from a core of younger homegrown–and cheaper–talent, and supplement with more expensive free agents. Your $ per WAR number represents the going rate of free agents, not how much a player is actually worth because it doesn’t take into account those players who are making far less than free agent prices.

I don’t know the actual numbers, but I would suggest that you compare the total WAR for all major league players–isn’t that 1000?–with the the total salaries of all players, and that would give you a more accurate WAR value. I’m guessing it would be something more in the $3-5M range per WAR.

So when I hear that a 3 WAR player is “worth” $25M a year, I just have to shake my head. A 3 WAR players is probably more accurately worth $10-15M a year in terms of the overall market.

dl80
Member
dl80

But the only thing we care about is what they would be “worth” if they were a free agent. We don’t care what Cespedes would be “worth” if he were a rookie, as he couldn’t be signed by any team.

backward galaxy
Member
backward galaxy

The only thing we care about is free agency value in this scenario. Cost controlled contracts are irrelevant, unless you’re never going to sign a free agent better than a bench player.

Bubba
Member
Member
Bubba

You can’t bid on cheap, cost controlled players. That’s why the cost per win in free agency is high. Of course teams don’t want to build an entire team through FA, but if they need to plug a whole, they’ll have to pay up.