clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

MLB free agent predictions: Which team will sign Yoenis Cespedes?

Spoiler: Not the Mets. But if you're looking for power and athleticism, Yoenis Cespedes might be the best bet remaining.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

After all the dumb debates, Yoenis Cespedes finished 13th in the MVP voting. He received two sixth-place, three seventh-place and two 10th-place votes out of 30 ballots. The story of how Cespedes threw the Mets over his shoulder and carried them to the postseason didn't resonate quite as loudly when the regular season ended, and we can all ignore that weird phase in our baseball lives. The people who passionately argued Cespedes was a real MVP contender probably feel like I do when I remember that Spin Doctors concert in 1993. It almost made sense at the time. Almost.

Now that we don't have to consider Cespedes as an unstoppable force of destiny -- the postseason also made that a bit easier -- we can just evaluate him as a player.

He sure is a good baseball player.

Just how good, though? Since he came into our lives, riding the smooth waves of Christopher Cross and benchpressing houses, Cespedes has been one of the better outfielders in the league. He's certainly been one of baseball's best hackers, and that's meant as a compliment. He's, uh, not a hitter who will overwhelm you with nuance. See ball, swing hard, occasionally hit ball 800 feet. Repeat over and over and over. Add just enough baserunning ability, some ambiguous fielding abilities and an unambiguous rocket arm, and you have a fine player.

If he's really a 35-homer kind of player now, he would be an excellent player. The kind who should make $100 million or more. The trick is finding the team that will pay him that much to find out. Because if he immediately regresses to the 20-homer guy who flirts with a .300 OBP, the deal will be dodgy in the first season, and then he'll lurch toward his mid 30s.

Cespedes has walked about as much in his 2,435 career plate appearances as Joey Votto did last year, but he makes up for that lack of discipline with otherworldly athleticism and strength. As long as that otherworldly athleticism and strength doesn't just, ha ha, diminish in his early-to-mid 30s, he'll be the same player. And what are the odds of that happening? Ha ha. Ha. Ha?

It's not a given, at least not right away. The history of baseball isn't just decades of Tony Batista-like cautionary tales. Torii Hunter rode that athleticism almost until he was 40. Andre Dawson slowed down but didn't sputter. There are athletes who can beat age back with a stick just long enough, and there are actually three minutes of Cespedes beating age with a stick in that workout video. I wouldn't want to bet out of my own pocket that he'll still be cranking homers at 34, but I would bet the money out of an owner's pocket.

Who has the need for dingers and can take the risk on a player in his early 30s? Who has the cash? Everyone gather around this warmish stove and figure out where Yoenis Cespedes is going.

The ideal

The sentimental idea is obvious. Mets fans fell in love with Cespedes. He rewarded them with dingers. Unless it happened the other way around. Regardless, all August and September, all we heard was, "Can the Mets afford to keep Yoenis Cespedes? Can the Mets afford not to keep Yoenis Cespedes?"

Then the World Series came and distracted everyone. When it left, there was a guy in glasses with a clipboard. Whenever people asked if the Mets could keep Cespedes, they would look toward him. He would look down, look up, and remorselessly shake his head. After about a week of this, Mets fans stopped asking.

It's not just money, though. Curtis Granderson isn't a centerfielder anymore. Michael Conforto will never be a centerfielder. And even though he has a shiny Gold Glove, Cespedes isn't a centerfielder. At least, not one you'd want to sandwich between two corner outfielders who are average defensively, at best. Granderson still has two years left on his deal, so that's 300 games of Cespedes in center, limiting his value. If the Mets are going to break the Wilpon budget for a free agent, getting a true centerfielder would make more sense.

Maybe they've just been saving up for Bryce Harper this whole time. Makes you think.

The practical ideal is less obvious. The Giants develop outfielders about as often as they develop closers who moonlight at shortstop, so they make a ton of sense. They're also owned by a group of investors instead of a single mass of pulsing billionaire ego, and all of those investors are expecting dividend checks, so they're completely unrealistic after the Cueto deal.

As a team with one remaining lineup hole and one of the few centerfielders that Cespedes would actually improve on defensively, though, there probably isn't a better fit. Pass the hat. Hopefully it's an animal hat the Giants can sell. Quick, everyone start pretending that Cespedes's nickname is "Bullwinkle."

The likely

The chart that I made for teams interested in Justin Upton mostly applies here, with a couple of exceptions. First, there might be a team willing to use Cespedes in center, at least for a couple years. His defensive numbers aren't ghastly in center, so it could be a reasonable, short-term solution for the right fit. Second, we have teams backing out of the offseason bazaar. The Cardinals are done with "dynamic" deals. The Angels are cool with Daniel Nava. The Giants are bargain-hunting.

Of the teams with a clear need for a corner outfielder, most of them aren't the type to hand out big contracts willy-nilly. The Indians, Reds and Royals don't seem like the types to come away with a $150 million investment on an over-30 player.

No, the Tigers probably make the most sense, just like they did with Upton. The questions are if a) they want to spend even more money on over-30 talent, and b) if Cespedes would pull a Cliff Lee and comeback to the team that traded him. It's a pretty rare decision for free agents to make.

We already predicted Upton to the Tigers, and we have to be consistent in this alternate universe. But we also predicted Chris Davis to the Nationals, so ...

Predictions

Orioles, six years, $132 million. The glut of outfielders and lack of desperate teams might make the price drop even more. But Cespedes's power would play fantastically well at Camden Yards, and he wouldn't be pressured into a center field spot with Adam Jones next to him. It's been a spell since the Orioles spent like this in free agency, and they're probably a couple years too late -- a $100 million mercenary sure would have helped them out in 2014 -- but if Davis leaves, they'll need to get their power from someone.

It would take four months to get used to Cespedes in an Indians jersey. It would take five seconds to get used to him in an Orioles jersey, for some reason. And in two years, he will opt out after 80 combined homers, unless he opts in and hits 80 overs over the six seasons. Good luck!

Previous free agent predictions, which have all been incorrect so far!

Jeff Samardzija
Zack Greinke
David Price
Ben Zobrist
Jason Heyward
Johnny Cueto
Chris Davis
Justin Upton