With a majority of the biggest free agents already signed, Yoenis Cespedes now has complete control over the trajectory of the offseason.
By Patrick Brewer
David Price signed for over $200 million. Zack Greinke signed for over $200 million, at a slightly higher annual average salary. Jason Heyward nearly got $200 million, with the all important opt-out. Chris Davis got $160+ million, with some deferred money. And finally, Justin Upton recently signed for just over $130 million, with a two year opt-out.
Between just five players, arguably the five best on the market, nearly $1 billion will be spent over the next seven years, or in the case of Chris Davis, 22 years (man that’s strange to say).
While this offseason has seen spending like no other, a few players have been left out of the spending spree, with the most notable one being Yoenis Cespedes.
With less than two weeks remaining in the month of January, and less than a month until pitchers and catcher report, Cespedes remains on the market as the clear top dog. Normally at this point in the offseason, the only players still looking for contracts are the players with little to no value, looking for some sort of short term, bounce back contract.
Pretty obviously, Cespedes does not fit that mold at all.
So where does that leave us?
At this point, it is really anyone’s guess where Cespedes will end up signing. He’s been linked at one point or another to nearly half the teams throughout baseball. Despite not coming with draft pick compensation attached, for some reason his market has been slow to develop, slower than any other big time free agent, including the recently signed Justin Upton. Cespedes has had some question marks due to his increasing age, his long term viability, and several perceived flaws in his game, but he is still a high caliber player who should demand a high caliber contract.
However, to this point, that contract has yet to materialize. The offers have been there, but apparently so far not to Cespedes’ liking. As mentioned above there has been no shortage of teams that have shown at least some level of interest.
Yoenis Cespedes has been seeking a 6-year deal in the $22M annual range this winter, said #MLB source.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) January 15, 2016
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 15, 2016
The #Whitesox still have interest in Yoenis Cespedes, but have not changed stance: Nothing more than 3 years
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 21, 2016
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) January 19, 2016
Source: The Padres are monitoring the market for Yoenis Cespedes, but a match seems unlikely. https://t.co/9Qy5wPQ7UX
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) January 20, 2016
Working to Cespedes’ advantage: Weakness of next year’s free-agent market for OFers. C. Gomez, Rasmus, Bruce, Reddick, J. Bautista at 36.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) January 20, 2016
Obviously there is a lot going on and a lot to be unpacked.
To this point, Cespedes and his camp have made it pretty clear that the slugger is looking for a six year deal with an average annual value of $22 million, or somewhere around $130-140 million, which is basically the deal that Justin Upton just signed with the Detroit Tigers. Just last week, Cespedes was apparently weighing a five year, $90 million offer from the Orioles as well as returning to the Mets on a one or two year pact. With the signing of Davis, the Orioles seem to be out.
However, for every team that falls out of contention for Cespedes, another two or three teams seem to crop up.
The White Sox have maintained interest, but only on a lesser two or three year deal, similar to what the Mets seem comfortable doing. Beyond that several other interesting options have also cropped up for Cespedes. The Nationals and Astros, who both were in some sort of discussions with Justin Upton, appear to also be interested in Cespedes as well. To add yet another team to the long list, the Padres have reportedly inquired about Cespedes, although that seems to be the most unlikely fit of all.
The most important thing to consider here is the advantages that Cespedes does have in the current market. With the signings of both Heyward and Upton over the last few months, Cespedes is clearly now the number one option on the free agent market. Also working in his favor is the weak 2016 free agent class of outfielders, as mentioned above.
On top of that, Cespedes does not come with draft pick compensation attached, allowing even more teams to be interested if the price is right. All these circumstances give Cespedes a lot of options, and really a lot of power in swaying his market the direction he desires.
As mentioned previously, it seems nearly impossible to make any sort of prediction as to where Cespedes will sign. Eliminating the teams that aren’t interested seems to be easier than counting all the teams that are. This late into the offseason calendar, whoever does sign Cespedes will likely be given a huge advantage for 2016.
With increasing parity in the American League, and a tight race among the top eight or nine teams in the National League, the team Cespedes signs could vault themselves into playoff position, or see themselves fall out of they miss the opportunity. In the usual offseason, no player holds such sway over the market and potentially holds such power of the next season. Cespedes has that power this offseason.
Take for example the National League East. Currently the Nationals are projected to be around four games better than the Mets. If the Nationals sign Cespedes that likely adds a couple wins to their 2016 total, pushing the gap between themselves and the Mets even further. On the flip side, if the Mets somehow swoop in and get a deal done, they could find themselves knocking on the Nationals door. This late in the offseason, Cespedes is really the only big addition left to be possibly made.
The same scenario plays out in the American League Central. The Chicago White Sox find themselves exactly three games behind the first place Cleveland Indians. Sign Cespedes and they could find themselves in first by themselves, or at least closer still. Throw in teams like the Astros, Cardinals or even Rangers, who sit right around playoff contention, and Cespedes can turn a non-playoff team into a playoff team just like that. Once again, Cespedes has that value at this point in the offseason.
Throughout this offseason, Yoenis Cespedes has been quite an enigma. There has clearly been plenty of interest, with at least a dozen teams showing varying levels of interest, but to this point no agreeable terms have been decided upon. Several teams seem unwilling to meet Cespedes desired price, for whatever reason that may be, and Cespedes has so far stuck to his guns. That should pay off for Cespedes in the long run, as each team involved gets more and more desperate as the start of Spring Training draws nearer.
Almost no player has such control over the free agent market as Yoenis Cespedes does right now. Cespedes may have not been the best player on the market this offseason, but he certainly is the most intriguing.
Come October, we may look back at this past month and think about what could have been. What is clear is that one way or another, Yoenis Cespedes will play a significant role in the 2016 postseason. And that’s just the way he likes it.