Free Agent Profile: Yoenis Cespedes

Yoenis Cespedes will be one of the most watched upcoming free agents this winter. He has become a coveted player on the market that has earned a huge payday. Cespedes defected from Cuba and signed a 4yr/36m deal (’12-’15) with the Oakland A’s in 2011. He immediately burst onto the scene as an offensive force hitting 20+ home runs, driving in at least 80 runs and slugging .450+ in each of his three seasons. After his success in Oakland, he became a journeyman over the last two seasons being traded to Boston, Detroit and then to the New York Mets this past July.

As a Met, he’s hitting .302 with 17 home runs and 42 RBI in 42 games after a week of hot hitting. Cespedes has totaled 2.9 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) with the Mets and his 6.9 WAR for the 2015 season ranks in the top 10 in the major leagues between both pitchers and hitters. Cespedes is a free agent this off-season but is a special case, as he can’t receive a qualifying offer for a draft pick. When Oakland signed Cespedes as a free agent out of Cuba, they took a significant gamble that he would be major-league ready, inserting him into their lineup right away. Cespedes’ contract requires that he be released after the season without the qualifying offer. The Mets would’ve retained exclusive negotiating rights for the first five days following the conclusion of the 2015 World Series. After that, they couldn’t negotiate with Cespedes until May 15, 2016. But due to the recent success and big gamble of a new payday from New York, Cespedes waived that part of his contract and will now be able to sign with New York at any time in the FA period.

Career Numbers

Cespedes’ value with the Mets is astronomical. After acquiring him on July 31st the Mets have scored the most runs (311) in the majors since that time. Before the acquisition the Mets were 28th in the league! They had what was considered a minor-league offense. Although they did acquire Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe, none have made more of an impact than Cespedes. What Cespedes brings to a team is power and pure run support. He became a catalyst for a struggling team and propelled them into first place. Almost all the hitters in their lineup have boosted numbers since that time as well. Pitchers can’t afford to pitch around batters in front of Cespedes. More guys are getting more pitches to hit resulting in more men on base for Cespedes to drive home. He also plays average defense and has a cannon for an arm.


I can see Cespedes re-signing with the Mets if they have a successful postseason. The fans along with the media would grill the front office/ownership if they did not get him back. That was the case this past trade deadline when GM Sandy Alderson was scrutinized for not making any moves until the final days leading up to July 31st. Roc Nation has the rights to negotiate his contract and as we saw from Cano’s FA market in 2013, they may try to get the most lucrative deal by waiting it out and reaching out to all interested teams. If the Mets want him back they are going to have to give him a big payday.

Some other clubs I can see having interest in Cespedes could be Baltimore, Houston, Miami, and San Diego (if they lose Justin Upton). I think the ones that just makes the most sense are Houston and Baltimore — they need to have more consistency, especially in their OF positions. Houston has Rasmus, Gomez and Springer. But Rasmus is a FA this offseason and Gomez has struggled. I think Cespedes provides that jolt to an offense that’s hard to find. He produces runs, which any offense needs. They could have Altuve, Correa and Springer/Gomez hit in front of Cespedes. That would be an incredible lineup. Throw in their great young staff and a decent back end of a lineup. That’s a scary team. Plus, they have the payroll to go out and get him. Right now its only about $72,000,000, but we’re not sure if ownership wants to go out and spend on one guy. They may try to find value elsewhere for cheaper which is something that General Manager Jeff Luhnow likes to do.

As for the Baltimore Orioles, they have Adam Jones in CF and could sign Cespedes to play LF. He has better defensive numbers in left and if the Orioles cannot sign 1B Chris Davis back I think they will strongly consider Cespedes. Baltimore has a ton of money coming off the books having only $41 million committed to next year so it seems as if they will have a lot of changes coming their way.

San Diego could be a good fit only if Justin Upton signs elsewhere, otherwise he’d be useless on a team that has three solid outfielders and no DH. We know AJ Preller could wave his magic wand at any moment and make something happen. Lastly, Miami could be a dark horse. They cut back on their spending in the last couple years but could look to make another “Marlin splash” with Yoenis Cespedes. Miami plays in a big Hispanic market and considering they are located not too far from Cuba, that could be influential in their decision-making.  The excitement from the fans and a power-filled lineup would be tremendous. Just imagine facing a lineup with Dee Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes and Giancarlo Stanton…someone call Jack McKeon to manage this squad.

In the end, I think Cespedes does sign back with the Mets, especially if they have a deep postseason run. The Orioles are the second favorite. I think the fans/media will get on the front office/ownership to sign him back. The Wilpons might be cheap but after seeing this postseason run they are going to ask themselves, how could they not? Cespedes seems to like being the top dog on a team; with the Mets he’s exactly that. As Reggie Jackson would say, “the straw that stirs the drink.” Without him, they are very vulnerable, as shown before his acquisition.

In terms of his deal, I think he will get around $26 million average annual value (AAV). The big part is how many years he will be able to get. After seeing Roc Nation get Cano to sign for 10 years, I don’t think we will see another double-digit figure like that. It seems that most teams are trying to shy away from that long-term deal and rather give a 6/7/8yr contract with more AAV. So I believe Cespedes will most likely go for about 7 years but higher AAV. Although I don’t think we will be surprised if a front office came up to 8-9-10 years…it’s not every day a .290, 30+HR, 100+RBIs, 7 WAR guy comes on the market.

Similar players we can compare to: Shin Soo Choo – 7yr/130m (18m/AAV) and Jacoby Ellsbury – 7yr/153m (21m/AAV). Cespedes has better numbers than both these players, especially in the power department. Choo was a guy known more for getting on base and Ellsbury had his average/legs/defense behind him. There’s no doubt in our minds Cespedes will get more than these two. If we also take into consideration that for every 1 WAR, a player usually gets $7-8 million/yr. Cespedes this season already has 6.9 WAR. That’s incredible but he’s more likely not to keep that up and fall back to his career average of about 4-5 WAR per season. With that being said, 4-5 WAR equates to a very high salary. The Mets/other teams will probably go a bit overboard and give on the higher end as usual. I think he will get to 7 years/182m for 26m AAV. I don’t think any of these teams will go to 8 years or longer because of the history of longer contracts not working out. If anything this deal will contain more AAV.

As Jerry Seinfeld tweeted: “A Cespedes for the rest of us.”
A Cespedes for the rest of us
PROJECTION: 7 years, $182 million with Mets or Orioles.

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Barney Coolio
Barney Coolio

How about the Boston Red Sox? They can move either Hanley or Pablo to 1b and that opens up LF. Or the Chicago Cubs. I can see either of these teams in the mix for Cespedes or Justin Upton.

Barney Coolio
Barney Coolio

Whoa! I didn’t quite realize this, but this offseason could be really interesting. There are quite a few quality outfielders available: Cespedes, Upton, Heyward, Gordon, Rasmus, and several of the big market big spending teams are rather full: Yankees, Giants, Dodgers, Red Sox. I can totally see the Mets, Orioles, Astros, Padres, and Marlins entering the free agent fray. However, I won’t rule out the Giants or Cubs.

Yeah, the Mets will probably resign Cespedes.

If the Marlins sign Cespedes (or someone for LF) that pushes Christian Yellich to CF, which is fine, he’s a young, GG LF who plays a lot of CF anyway. Interestingly enough, that opens the door to Cespedes and Upton to winning the LF GGs in the future.

Houston and Baltimore definitely need more stability in the OF. Good point.

I was skeptical when you listed San Diego as potential suitors for Cespedes, but now that I think about it, why not? If not Cespedes, perhaps a different free agent OF.