Let’s Find a New Team for Yoenis Cespedes

The Boston Red Sox, as you might have heard, currently have an outfield glut. There is ten pounds of outfield meat in their five pound bag. Something has to give, and that something is likely Yoenis Cespedes.

When the Sox acquired Cespedes from Oakland in the Jon Lester trade, it felt more like a rental than a long-term investment in the player. Cespedes’ unique contract allows him to become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season, so Boston put themselves in an enviable position. They received an established big leaguer in exchange for their walk-year ace and got an up-close and personal look at a potential big free agent bat.

Whether or not a look under Cespedes’ hood informed their decision to sign both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, that’s the route they went down. Now Cespedes is trade bait, the precious “right-handed power” commodity in a marketplace clambering for those skills. He’s headed into his age-29 season, he’s owed $10.5 million this year, and there’s going to be a line around the block to bid for his services. Where might he land?

Seattle Mariners

The zeal with which the Mariners pursue right-handed power is well established. While some Mariners watchers prefer the likes of Shane Victorino, Cespedes is a nice fit for the power stricken Mariners. Trading one of their young arms (like Taijuan Walker) doesn’t necessarily suit Boston’s needs, but what about Hisashi Iwakuma?

Like Cespedes, Iwakuma can become  a free agent after the 2015 season. Like Cespedes, he’s projected to produce around 3 Wins Above Replacement next season. Like Cespedes, the terms of his contact are downright reasonable, with $7 million coming to the Japanese hurler next year.

It’s a decent fit, but the Mariners believe themselves a playoff team, so dealing their second-best pitcher doesn’t exactly help them achieve that lofty goal. A straight swap might be a little light on the Mariners end, but their outfield/DH options are such that addressing that weakness in a significant way might be worth the risk of depleting your rotation. Or it would be if their rotation depth wasn’t equally as thin. The Mariners aren’t swimming in extra arms, so while this move would help Boston, it probably just changes the Mariners weaknesses rather than eliminating them.

Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto seems all but resigned to the departure of Melky Cabrera. After signing Russell Martin to a backloaded contract, the Jays have some money to spend. But do they have the pieces to make a deal? They have Dioner Navarro, a valuable commodity as an everyday catcher earning relative pittance. They have durable starters like J.A. Happ, Mark Buehrle and even R.A. Dickey, though the idea of Happ pitching at Fenway Park is not for the faint of heart (to say nothing of the other two.)

The Jays have the needs but, considering their own run at the division title, aren’t likely to provide their chief rivals with a big league ready piece as they both pursue the same division title, gutting their own rotation in the process.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are a match for Cespedes in that they claim the pending FA pitchers that might best help the Red Sox. But the Reds are a team in flux, one that is probably retooling to build around Joey Votto and have little use for a one year rental outfielder.

Cincy might best serve as a go-between, a third party that can provide Boston the pitching they need, another team the outfielder they desire while netting a more controllable asset for their own future.

San Francisco Giants

The Giants have plenty of off-season work ahead. Between plugging the hole at third base, finding an extra trophy room to accommodate their assortment of World Series tchotkes, and figuring out left field, Brian Sabean doesn’t have much time to spare. The Giants have a hole but lack the materials to see it filled, presuming the Red Sox don’t want prospects (not that the Giants have too much in the way of prospect capital anyway.)

The Giants might lineup in a similar way to the Reds, a third party that can’t directly help the Red Sox but might work well with a third party looking for a younger arm or more years of control. (see also: the Chicago White Sox.)

Baltimore Orioles

Nelson Cruz is cool and all, but do you know what’s really cool? Think Nelson Cruz, but YOUNGER! If the Orioles can’t retain the services of their gift from the pillow contract gods, and if Nick Markakis‘ contract situation isn’t resolved quickly, perhaps the O’s could provide the teeny ballpark and Showalter Magic Cespedes needs as he heads towards free agency.

Like the Blue Jays, the Orioles are division rival keen on defend their AL East crown. Perhaps dealing big league ready talent to a rival isn’t in their best interests? As nice a fit as it appears on the surface, it feels unlikely that the two teams (even with another trade partner) could consummate a fair deal.

Texas Rangers

On a pure need basis, this might be the best fit. The Rangers currently project dead last in right fielder WAR, and that’s with Steamer projecting a significant improvement from Michael Choice over his dreadful 2015 performance. There’s no way the Rangers can go into next year with Choice as their primary right fielder, and Cespedes would offer a nice right-handed complement to Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo in the middle of Texas’ line-up.

Jon Daniels has openly said he prefers to fill the team’s needs via the trade route, so it seems likely that he’s at least checked in on the Red Sox glut of outfielders. The problem is that there isn’t an obvious match here for the Red Sox; the Rangers also lack starting pitching depth, and their primary trade assets are middle infielders, which the Red Sox don’t need. But perhaps Texas makes sense as the landing spot for Cespedes if Boston goes the three-way deal route, bringing in a team that has young pitching but could use some middle infield depth.

That sounds like the Mets. Three way trades are complicated, but perhaps there’s a deal to be made that sends an arm or two from New York to Boston, ships Cespedes to Texas, and puts one of the Rangers young middle infielders in Queens.

The Upton Factor

There is one important factor to consider when guessing on Cespedes landing spots: Justin Upton. Like the Cuban outfielder, Upton can become a free agent at the end of the 2015 season. Like Cespedes, he’s a right-hand hitting outfielder with a lot of pop. Upton has $14.5MM remaining on his contract. He’s also, conservatively speaking, a better hitter.

But is he a better player? And is he a better player to the extent that, for the next season, he should cost significantly more in terms of a trade return? That’s another story. Over the last three seasons, the two players compare quite nicely, with Upton getting on base at a greater clip but Cespedes providing more value on the defensive side.

Justin Upton 1912 73 34 10.4% 23.7% .191 .271 .350 .462 .354 124 9.1
Yoenis Cespedes 1759 71 30 6.5% 20.9% .201 .263 .316 .464 .336 115 8.5

Upton is two years younger, so he figures to deliver more peak years as a free agent, but this is about 2015, and both players have come this far; free agency beckons.

Steamer projects the two to put up comparable numbers in 2015, forecasting a .272/.324/.473 slash line, good for a .347 wOBA and around three Wins for Cespedes, with Upton coming in at  .262/.344/.460, 353 wOBA and 3 WAR of his own. Both players are sporadic performers but Cespedes has a harder time staying on the field, playing in 150 games for the first time in 2014. Upton’s avoided injury since 2010, when he missed time due to a sore left shoulder.

The two players offer similar skills at a similar price, but the perception of the two feels quite different. As much as Red Sox fans use the trade haul for Jason Heyward as their basis for a fair package in exchange for Cespedes, they’re likely to be disappointed. Unless the value for right-handed power is even greater than we believe.

Put another way, any team engaging the Red Sox on Cespedes is likely having the same conversation with the Braves on Upton. Which player would you rather trade assets for? Just by name alone, surely Upton nets a bigger return. But given the state of the game right now and the demonstrated power thirst, the price for either of these players could escalate.

Drew used to write about baseball and other things at theScore but now he writes here. Follow him on twitter @DrewGROF

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8 years ago

I’ve been saying Iwakuma for Cespedes for awhile. Perhaps Boston deals a prospect in that too because I think Iwakuma’s value is ahead of Cespedes

But then I had 2nd thoughts, maybe the Sox add Victorino in that deal and eat most of his $, and then the Mariners can add a prospect (low level of course)

Mariners OFers last year had a 1.1 WAR which is awful. Cesepdes + Victorino (if healthy and ready of course) + A-Jax is probably at least a 6 WAR right there.

Adam S
8 years ago
Reply to  MB923

Iwakuma for Cespedes makes sense in that it’s an exchange of 3 WAR players who can be free agents after 2015. But as noted, it doesn’t help the Mariners, simply moving a hole from OF/DH to the starting rotation. The Red Sox would have to throw in a second RH OF or a prospect to make it interesting.

While the M’s OF was terrible last year, they actually project to 3 2 WAR players for 2015.

Surprised not to see the Cubs on the list. The Cubs believe they’re contenders and are pretty barren in the OF. They’re one of the few teams that could use 2 of the Red Sox outfielders.

8 years ago
Reply to  Adam S

“The Red Sox would have to throw in a second RH OF”

That’s why I mentioned Victorino

8 years ago
Reply to  Adam S

They can replace Iwakuma with a FA SP’er like McCarthy, Liriano, Capuano, Masterson, etc all of whom are available as FA and won’t cost as much as the elite SP’ers, or they coud go after Shields

8 years ago
Reply to  MB923

You could also look to expand this deal, the Red Sox have several SPs at the higher level/MLB level that appear useful as mid to back end arms, they could send Cespedes and Renaudo/Workman/De La Rosa to SEA in exchange for Iwakuma and miller/Taylor/another prospect? Just a thought.

8 years ago
Reply to  MB923

Dealing Iwakuma period is a non-starter for the Mariners. He has been outstanding in stretches, seriously one of the best pitchers in the game. Numbers on paper don’t really capture how effective he has been for the large parts of both of the last two seasons. Nobody expecting to contend, which the Mariners are seriously hoping to do, moves an arm of that quality. There is no comparable replacement at any reasonable cost, either in their system or on the market. If the Ms were going in big long term for somebody like Lester, than moving Kuma makes sense on paper, but that’s a dumb place for the Ms to spend large money right now with so many other needs.

Iwakuma may only be under contract for another year, but he likes Seattle a lot, and the odds on re-signing him here are significant. The only concern with Iwakuma is age-related decline and whether to move him if there is a worry on that. Nothing stands out there, even though he’s faded in both of the past two Septembers. Iwakuma is simply more valuable than Cespedes. I’m inclined to say he’s more valuable than Upton for that matter, but I don’t see him being moved for a one-year rental regardless, not least since the Ms FO has made clear negative noises regarding overpaying for one-year guys.

The guy to go after on the Mariners staff is Roenis Elias. While I don’t know that he’s available given he has five years of service time, he was reasonably good and is a LHP, and is the most likely dealable arm in Seattle. Of course, nobody wants the doable guy as opposed to the shoot-the-moon guy.

Regarding the concepts in the post, a triangular deal with Boston-Texas-Cincy/NYM does seem a sound construct.

I still see Baltimore as a very interested party to acquire Cespedes, who is better all-around than Cruz, cheaper, and a great fit for park and need. They are (or should be) all in to win in 2015 having already made the playoffs. The only issue is what/who would interest Boston back. One obvious possibility occurs there: Matt Weiters. He’s another walk year guy, and yes he was hurt. He’s pretty valuable when healthy, could solidify the backstop for Boston. Yes, ‘helping’ Baltimore wouldn’t be a great objective for Boston, but how about helping themselves more? Weiters and a bullpen bit maybe, while clearing outfield room looks pretty good for Boston, to me. A fine starting pitcher for Cespedes looks even better of course, but seriously: that just isn’t going to happen. A guy who looks broken but fixable like Shelby Miller or Rodriguez from Baltimore at the 2013 deadline, yeah, _that_ could happen. But a quality arm like Iwakuma? Fugeddaboudit.