Last night, the Detroit Tigers gave six years and over $130 million to Justin Upton. In doing so, they not only brought their payroll up to a laughable (but still not Dodger-esque) number, they also scooped up one of two remaining top quality outfielders. Contrary to what one might think, being the last guy on the market isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, as there aren’t any other options, Yoenis Cespedes has regained any leverage he might have lost when others signed. Do you want a slugging corner outfielder, but don’t want to trade for one? Well then now you have no option but to sign Yoenis Cespedes. So let’s take a look a few of the teams that are fits.
Arte Moreno keeps stating the luxury tax as a deterrent to the Angels signing a big contract. But the Angels have to do something if they want to compete in the AL West. The Astros are the team to beat. The Rangers won the division last year, have improved by acquiring Cole Hamels at last year’s deadline, and Yu Darvish will return at some point in 2016 as well. Even the Mariners have improved to some degree. The Angels have acquired Andrelton Simmons and…nothing else. Sorry, but Daniel Nava isn’t cutting it in left.
The Orioles are kind of in the same situation as the Angels, except they haven’t really done anything at all to improve. Instead, they paid a boatload of money to retain the services of Darren O’Day, Matt Wieters (though not really by choice here), and Chris Davis. As such, they might actually not have enough money to spend. However their corner outfielders are even worse than the Angels’. Nolan Reimold and Ryan Flaherty combined for a 0.5 fWAR last year. Neither has ever been counted on to play a full time position. It would be kind of insane for them to spend as much as they have but not upgrade either corner spot – and that’s assuming that noted lead glove Mark Trumbo will be serving as the team’s DH and not an outfielder.
The Sox have done an admirable job these last couple of years trying to improve their team. They’ve signed Jose Abreu, Melky Cabrera, and David Robertson.. They brought up Carlos Rodon last year too, but all of that still wasn’t good enough to stop them from finishing fourth and under .500 in 2015. But then earlier this offseason, they surprised everyone when they completed a trade for Todd Frazier. That’s really great, and it still might not be enough in a tough-looking AL Central. After all, their projected starter in RF right now is Avisail Garcia. He actually hurt the team for a -1.1 fWAR. The Tigers brought in Upton and Jordan Zimmermann. The Royals are the defending World Champions and will probably still be good after retaining Alex Gordon and inking Ian Kennedy. The Twins are improving. I’m not sure the Sox can expect to compete if they don’t do something about Garcia’s roster spot.
The Mets are said to be interested in signing Cespedes if he’ll take a short term deal. So there’s no fit here unless something goes *completely* off the rails.
The Twins made some noise last year hanging around their division for a while and the Wild Card race a while longer, finishing just three games back of the second Wild Card (eventually won by the Astros). Some of their top prospects are starting to arrive, including Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton. They took a gamble on Korean slugger Byung-ho Park. Maybe they’d be willing to make another expenditure on Yoenis Cespedes. Things haven’t seemed to work out so far with Oswaldo Arcia. And despite his solid rookie campaign, Eddie Rosario is probably best suited to a utility role. But signing Cespedes would likely push their payroll to a record level, and that might not be a conversation starter for the small market Twins. Plus, they’ve already got a surplus of outfielders following Park’s signing bumping Sano to a corner.
Well, they’ve been tied to him in recent days, but that seems more of a “wishful thinking” type situation. Plus, the Braves are tied in to eight figure deals for Michael Bourn, Nick Markakis, and Nick Swisher – even if two of those three players probably won’t be playing every day and are being subsidized by the Indians this year, that’s a fair roadblock.
I could see any one of these teams making a play for Cespedes. Well, any team expect the Mets. Whether they’re truly as cash strapped as they claim to be is beyond my knowledge. But I do know that if they’ll only hand out a one to three year deal, they aren’t getting the slugging outfielder. There are enough teams that have need of Cespedes that he can get that multi-year deal he wants.
I think Justin Upton is the better player. He has a better bat and he’s two years younger. However, Cespedes doesn’t have draft pick compensation attached following his midseason trade from the Tigers to the Mets. That helps his case, but I think we can assume the six-year, $132 million deal Upton got is out of reach. Perhaps knock off a year and we’re getting close. I think maybe five years and 100-120 million is a likely scenario at this point. And he’ll probably get an opt-out after two years too, which is all the craze this winter.
That type of offer may or may not exclude the Orioles and Angels. I have no idea how much they can or are willing to spend. But at the very least this downgrades their likelihood. As far as monetarily, I think the White Sox and Twins are the best fits so far.
However, you have to move things around a bit for the Twins to be a fit. Eddie Rosario and Oswaldo Arcia get moved to utility roles. And Max Kepler either gets sent back to the minors, which does make sense as he’s never played at AAA, or he gets moved to first permanently, which would also make sense were it not for the presence of Joe Mauer and Byung-ho Park.
I think the best fit is the Chicago White Sox. They have a desperate need to upgrade from Avisail Garcia and don’t have a prospect pushing for the opportunity. As far as money is concerned, they’re currently projected to come in just a few million shy of their $118 million 2015 Opening Day payroll. I don’t know what their hard limit is, but in 2011 they pushed up around $130 million and that was before MLB’s new national TV deals exploded. I have to believe they have the room to make it work.
There are 76 days until MLB’s official Opening Day. That’s plenty of time for Yoenis Cespedes to find a home. I’m guessing he signs somewhere before Spring Training starts, and probably before the end of January at this rate. It’ll be fun to find out which team ends up getting him. The way this offseason has gone, it’ll be the team I haven’t covered that makes the least sense. So probably…the Red Sox.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs
Contract information courtesy of Cot’s Contracts