Recent deals leave the free agency market for big hitting outfielders like this: Yoenis Cespedes at the top of the pyramid waiting for an offer, Justin Upton right behind him. While no combination being a perfect fit, Cespedes and Young are going to end up on two of the following teams: St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels, Detroit Tigers or the Chicago White Sox.
Cespedes, now that Chris Davis has been re-signed by the Baltimore Orioles, is the number one hitter on the market. He hit 35 home runs last season for the Tigers and the Mets despite the unfriendly confines of CitiField in Queens, his second consecutive season with over 100 RBIs, while also picking up his first Gold Glove award. For someone who has moved around quite a bit, there’s plenty of talk of Cespedes (and Upton too) taking a short term deal, which is how some of these teams are trying to play out the negotiations, although it doesn’t make sense. He might hit more home runs next season in a friendlier park, but his 6.7 WAR isn’t going to be higher, and why miss out on the momentum he has going after a very good year?
It all depends on how much he’s asking for in terms of years and money. The Orioles offered him somewhere between $75 to $90 million over five seasons. Cespedes might have taken that deal if it wasn’t just to get Davis back to the table and go back to Baltimore. The Orioles aren’t making any more big signings after that one, deferring some of the payment on the deal to the 15 years after it expires, ending in 2037, which means they’ve spent as much as possible and maybe even a bit more than planned to keep Davis.
In terms of fit, the Angels sound interesting. It’ll add a lefty hitter to Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, making it even more difficult for teams to get around certain patches in their lineup. But Cespedes commands at least $15 million a season, and for the Angels, who are very close to the $189-million luxury tax threshold, that might be a bit too much. For their knack of making big signings in recent years, it feels as if they don’t want to make that kind of spending on the 30-year old.
The Tigers would also like a lefty hitter. Cespedes played well in Detroit for 102 games last season before the trade with the Mets, belting out 18 home runs while batting .293 with a .829 OPS. The Tigers do like to surprise with some of their signings, and Cespedes will certainly be big and surprising, but right now they’re hoping he wants a short term deal, which he doesn’t. And with that in mind, the two sides haven’t been talking.
For the White Sox it’s a matter of money they simply don’t have, unless they trade other expensive players they own. Cespedes is much better than their current right fielder Avisail Garcia and have shown they’re playing to win this season by moving for Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie, but Cespedes, a free agent, for the moment is out of reach for them, unless they find a taker for Adam LaRoche or the Cuban gets desperate and lowers his price tag.
The Cardinals, at least officially, don’t want to make any more big signings after giving Mike Leake $80 million over five years. But their offense struggled last season, they have big TV money coming in very soon and Matt Holliday is in a contract year. The Mets keep signaling they want Cespedes back, but only on a short term deal. For him, it’s probably better playing somewhere that helps him produce more impressive home run numbers.
And where is Upton in all of this? He’s the second choice, and only once teams realize they can’t get Cespedes, will they go for him, with a slightly smaller contract. Upton was an All-Star last season for a third time, hitting 26 home runs although his OPS dipped below .800 for the first time since in two years, although not in an alarming way. Just like Cespedes, there’s the option of a one-year deal, but that doesn’t sound favorable. Once those two are off the board, it’s Dexter Fowler that’s waiting for someone to sign him. The Chicago Cubs will bring him back once he significantly lowers his demands.