2016 Statistics: 132 G, .280/.354/.530, 31 HR, 134 wRC+, 3.2 fWAR
Age on Opening Day 2017: 31
One fact about the Yoenis Cespedes Sweepstakes should be perfectly clear—if it was 2003, George Steinbrenner would absolutely sign him to an enormous contract. This is not to say that I endorse that or have any patience for the “if the Boss was alive” trope. This is just a near-fact because Steinbrenner lived to steal headlines from the Mets and put their best players in Yankee pinstripes.
Cespedes also happens to be the biggest name in a dry free agent class and might very well end up being the only player to command a nine-figure deal. No matter how much he loved New York, it was a no-brainer for him to opt out of his three-year deal after earning just about every penny of the $27.5 million the Mets paid him this year.
This is the second straight year that Cespedes has hit the open market, but last year, teams seemed uncertain about whether the Cespedes who took Citi Field by storm during the Mets’ pennant run was the real one. After all, he had been a fine hitter before, but slugging .604 in the final two months opened the possibility that he could be even better. Nonetheless, teams stayed away (perhaps made uneasy by his rocky October), so he returned to the Mets on a three-year, $75 million deal.
Cespedes did a tremendous job proving that his second half in 2015 was no fluke. He crushed 30 bombs for the second year in a row, reached base at his highest rate since his breakout rookie year, and once again, his bat was at its best when the Mets needed him most. The team was lagging in August, and when he returned from a brief injury, he caught fire, slugging eight homers in 20 games to lead the Mets back into the playoff race. They fell in the Wild Card to the Madison Bumgarner buzzsaw, but the fact that they were there in the first place (and hosting) was remarkable.
The question is not whether Cespedes makes sense for the Yankees in 2017. Of course he does because he’s the best hitter on the market and any team would make room for a player like that. The question is whether his contract makes sense for them long-term. The Yankees could use a menacing presence like Cespedes in the lineup since there’s no one who really casts fear aside from Gary Sanchez, who is still quite new to the majors.
However, it’s still tough to project Cespedes’ next few years despite an All-Star 2016. He has had such an odd career path since coming over from Cuba, and since he’s on the wrong side of 30, a crash could be coming in the next few years as his bat speed slows down. He has never really had the plate discipline that portends a more gradual decline. His defense isn’t a calling card either, as Gary Sheffield certainly proved that a good arm alone does not make one a good defender.
I wouldn’t complain too much if the Yankees decided to take the plunge and sign Cespedes. It’s always exciting to get a guy like that into the regular batting order. Over the course of his contract though, it won’t be such an obvious fit that I’ll be mad if the Steinbrenners pass on him.
Given their reluctance to spend over the past couple years, signing Cespedes appears unlikely. It’s really just a pipe dream. So it goes.