Yoenis Cespedes has wasted little time to give a glimpse of why the Red Sox made their move for him at the trade deadline. The slugging outfielder blasted his second eighth-inning homer in as many games on Tuesday, walloping a fastball 433 feet to straightway center, to propel the Sox to a 3-2 win over the Reds.
The Red Sox have won their last two games by scoring a total of six runs. Cespedes has accounted for five of them with his two homers. Suffice it to say that his impact has not gone unobserved by his new team.
"It's a middle of the order bat. Gives us a certain presence in the middle of the order, and a much needed one," manager John Farrell told reporters after Tuesday's win. "And he’s shown on all sides of the baseball that he’s a complete player. Having that ability to change the game with one swing of the bat is important for us."
The Sox acquired Cespedes with the idea that he can contribute to a thicker middle of the order next year. The team has been power-starved in 2014. Entering Tuesday, the Sox had hit 77 homers this year, 14th in the American League and 27th in the majors. With David Ortiz joined by Cespedes, Mike Napoli and Allen Craig, the team can envision a considerable step forward in its ability to produce runs.
Still, there is some curiosity about whether the Red Sox *really* traded Jon Lester for just one meaningful season of Cespedes before he hits the road as a free agent. (It's worth noting that Cespedes' four-year, $36 million contract includes a clause that requires him to be released after 2015. That same clause will prevent him from being subject to a qualifying offer that would position the Sox to receive a draft pick for his departure. However, Oakland also included a competitive balance draft pick in the trade to ensure that the Sox would gain a prospect benefit to the deal.)
Obviously, the trade could look considerably different if the Sox sign Cespedes to an extension. And the Sox have a history of moving quickly (less than a full season) to extend key contributors for whom they've traded in the past decade, including players like Curt Schilling, Coco Crisp, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez.
It seems premature to predict whether Cespedes or the Sox are ultimately interested in talking about a contract extension before he hits free agency. It's worth noting that, while a member of the A's, Cespedes spent two years talking candidly of his enthusiasm for becoming a free agent before he made an unexpected proclamation of his desire to spend the rest of his career in Oakland this spring.
It remains to be seen if he'd be similarly open to an extension with the Sox. After all, he pursued a four-year deal to start his career in the U.S. in no small part out of recognition of the idea that he could be in line for a considerable open market haul just after turning 30 years old. If the Sox do want to keep him beyond 2015, it seems safe to assert that he'd require a deal that was largely in line with market value to do so.
So, it's worth asking: Based on his current big league track record, what kind of deal might Cespedes command as a free agent? To date, he's a career .262 hitter with a .317 OBP and .471 slugging mark while averaging 29 homers per 162 games. He's hitting .256/.301/.467 with 19 homers this year, and .263/.282/.500 thus far with the Sox.
There's no question about his incredible raw power, though his low OBPs create some question about his ability to apply that aspect of his game. He's shown excellent range in left field so far with the Sox, consistent with a season that has seen him grade (thanks to his range and excellent throwing arm) as the second-best defensive left fielder in the game according to the Runs Saved system (he's credited with having saved 11 runs this season).
Cespedes' tools arguably exceed his value to date as a player. One talent evaluator described him as "closer to an average player in an exciting package than a great one." Yet the opportunities to acquire his kind of right-handed power are rare, meaning that he is in line to be well paid for years to come.
Here's a quick look at somewhat comparable players -- primarily, those with significant power potential and limited on-base skills -- who either reached free agency or received extensions shortly before arriving on the open market:
Curtis Granderson, OF
2013-14 offseason: 4 years, $60M -- ages 33-36
Pre-free agent year: 61 games, .229/.317/.407, 7 HR, 8 SB
Pre-pre-free agent year: 160 games, .232/.319/.492, 43 HR, 10 SB
Notes: Granderson had a longer track record of big league success than Cespedes, but was coming off a lost year and was past his prime seasons (roughly defined as 27-32) by the time he reached free agency. His market was also somewhat limited by the fact that he had been subject to the qualifying offer, thus requiring a signing team to give up a draft pick to acquire him. Cespedes would thus appear to be in line for something north of what Granderson got.
Jose Abreu, 1B
2013-14 offseason: 6 years, $68M -- ages 27-32
Pre-free agent year: Not in MLB
Notes: Abreu represented a largely unknown quantity with considerable risk attached to him given that there were questions about whether he'd have the bat speed to catch up with big league fastballs. The fact that all of his prime seasons were in front of him broadened his market, but defensive questions and limitations to a first base-only player worked in the other direction. As a known quantity whose defense is an asset, Cespedes would again appear in line to clear this contract bar.
Hunter Pence, OF
2013 extension: 5 years, $90M -- ages 31-35
Pre-free agent year: 162 games, .283/.339/.483, 27 HR, 22 SB
Notes: Pence had less defensive value than Cespedes when he signed with the Giants but he presented more baserunning value and his higher OBPs suggested a player with more reliable offensive impact. For the sake of reference, Fangraphs pegged him for 5.5 Wins Above Replacement in 2013; Cespedes currently grades as a 2.6 WAR player in 2014.
Nick Swisher, 1B/OF
2012-13 offseason: 4 years, $56M -- ages 32-35
Pre-free agent year: 148 games, .272/.364/.473, 24 HR
Notes: Swisher's market was chilled by his attachment to draft pick compensation. He had much better on-base skills than Cespedes, but not the same raw power or defensive value as the Red Sox outfielder, and like Granderson, his prime years were largely behind him by the time he signed.
B.J. Upton, OF
2012-13 offseason: 5 years, $75 million -- ages 28-32
Pre-free agent year: 153 games, .246/.298/.454, 28 HR, 31 SB
Notes: Upton harbors some interesting similarities to Cespedes as a player with insane raw tools whose performance track record did not live up to those gifts. His combination of power, speed and defensive prowess made him a 3.1 win player for the Rays in the 2012 season before Atlanta acquired him. His market was hindered by draft pick compensation. Cespedes will surely want to clear the bar set by Upton, and without being subject to the qualifying offer, he probably will, though Upton's disastrous first two years with the Braves offer a cautionary tale about what can happen to players with power in the absence of a sound approach.
Barring an injury or a drastic shift in his performance in one direction or the other, Cespedes' skills and performance seem to most closely (albeit imperfectly) align with Upton and Pence. But whether he sees his value lying in the range of players who received five-year deals for $15 million to $18 million a year remains to be seen.
There is a wild card in play. Cespedes could look to the example of a player like Adrian Beltre and daydream about putting up video game numbers in Boston (Beltre, a player who featured power and low OBPs in Seattle, hit .321/.365/.553 with 28 homers and 79 extra-base hits in 2010 as a 31-year-old with the Red Sox, a platform for a five-year, $80 million deal with the Rangers that included a vesting option for a sixth year). Doing so would elevate Cespedes into a different free agent stratosphere, though the Sox would be hard-pressed to complain if they had a player performing at anything near the elite level of Beltre in 2011.