Yoenis Cespedes is an extremely interesting case among Major League outfielders. He isn’t nearly as good as the general perception of his skill set might indicate. Yet, in the past six months, he’s been traded twice, for two fairly notable pitchers: first for Jon Lester and now he’s headed to Detroit in exchange for Rick Porcello. Although the two pitchers were rentals, is Cespedes really the type of talent worth serving up top (at least in the case of Lester, somewhat so in the case of Porcello) arms?
How does this keep happening? How do two impact starters, albeit rentals at the time, find themselves in a straight 1-for-1 swap for an outfielder whose career WAR across three seasons is only 8.5? It’s hard to deny that the answer could lie in his name more than anything.
Examining the total body of work, Cespedes certainly hasn’t lived up to the lofty expectations set forth for him as he kicked off the influx of Cuban players making their way to the bigs. He has a rather high strikeout rate, at 21 percent for his career, while walking at a 6.5% clip. He’s posted an on-base percentage of just .316, a figure which is, no doubt, buoyed by a .356 mark in his first year.
Even looking at more advanced numbers, his wRC+ the last two years have been 102 and 109, respectively. Both are above average figures, but neither one is a spectacular one. His fWAR across those three season: 2.9, 2.2, and 3.4. That’s solid, but nowhere near allowing him to be labeled as the elite level talent that he’s made out to be. In fact, that puts him right about average among position players.
Now the purpose of this isn’t – to put it as bluntly as possible – crap all over the reputation and skill set of Yoenis Cespedes and what he brings to the table. There are certainly some positives there. He brings power (average of 23 home runs in three seasons), is an above average fielder capable of playing all over the outfield, and has an exceptional arm, perhaps the best in baseball. He has the ability to be a player who can leave his mark on every single game, but he hasn’t been able to develop any semblance of consistency.
The unfortunate truth of the matter is that Cespedes may have already shown the best he has to offer. His rookie campaign was outstanding and demonstrated far superior numbers compared to what we’ve seen in these last couple of years. At this point, we probably need to just take him for what he is, and not what his upside indicates that he could be.
That doesn’t mean he’s not a valuable player because he is. His power capability and defensive upside alone make him an asset. It’s just simply impossible to label him as elite. The Boston Red Sox surrendered their best pitcher to get him (both in the short term, and you could make an argument for the long term), while the Detroit Tigers gave up a quality piece that could have been a mainstay in their rotation for the next several years. Instead, both were traded straight up for Yoenis Cespedes.
This certainly helps to illustrate how important a name can be. While we know that every single MLB front office is evaluating beyond what a player’s reputation says about them, both the Red Sox and the Tigers hoped they were acquiring the big bopper, who dazzles in the field on the regular. While he’ll easily show flashes of both of those, and will leave his mark as a result, he’s not a player to be relied upon to do that sort of thing consistently. It’s simply time to acknowledge what Cespedes is, rather than what we all hope he could be.