Cespedes central figure of Red Sox's future success
Slugger unsure if he'll sign long-term deal or test free agency after '15
BOSTON -- To mangle a famous line penned eons ago by a music critic to describe young rocker Bruce Springsteen: I have seen the future of the Boston Red Sox and it is Yoenis Cespedes.
The trade that rocked the baseball world and has had such a devastating effect on the A's offense is set to pay huge dividends for the Red Sox next season. Whether his Boston tenure goes beyond that is to be determined, said the Cuban-born right-handed hitter, who on Saturday reached the 100-RBI mark for the first time.
"I'm still not sure if I want to sign an extension or if I want to go to free agency," he said through an interpreter after smacking a pair of RBI singles in a 10-4 victory over the Yankees at Fenway Park. "It's too soon."
The four-year, $36 million deal Cespedes signed with the A's right before the start of Spring Training in 2012 allows him to become a free agent after the '15 season despite the fact that he won't have the requisite six years in the Major Leagues to qualify.
Safe to say that for the A's, the often talked about trade -- that brought them ace left-hander Jon Lester and the return of outfielder Jonny Gomes -- was as much about money as it was about the A's taking a chance at winning it all right now. Cespedes was stunned by the move the day it happened. The A's had the best record in baseball and a comfortable lead on the Angels in the American League West. They went into action Saturday still trying to lock up a spot in Tuesday's AL Wild Card Game. Oakland would play either Detroit or Kansas City, depending upon which team wins the Central -- or not.
"I was surprised when it happened. I'm still a little surprised," Cespedes said. "I didn't think it would happen this season. I thought there was a chance of it happening next season because I didn't think Oakland would sign me after this contract. Yeah, I was definitely surprised."
Cespedes was signed by well regarded A's general manager Billy Beane at a discount rate because of the timing of the deal and the fact that most teams had allocated their player personnel budgets by that juncture of the signing season, Beane said back then.
Now that Cespedes has a big league track record, it won't happen again. He'll be worth a lot more on the open market. The four-year deal has a $9 million average, but pays out higher at the back end: $10.5 million a season for both 2014 and '15. By trading Cespedes largely for a pitcher who will become a free agent at the end this season, the A's saved at least the '15 portion of the Cespedes deal.
But apparently Beane didn't count on this: Cespedes was well-liked in the clubhouse and the A's were 66-41 with him in the lineup this season at the time of the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline deal, but just 21-31 since. Overall, they were 228-131 -- nearly 100 games over .500 -- with Cespedes since they signed him. Without him because of injury or after the trade, they are 48-76.
At midseason in 2012, the A's became the surprise of the Majors, winning back-to-back AL West titles with Cespedes in the middle of the lineup. If the A's are the master sabermetricians basing so many of their decisions on complicated mathematical formulas, isn't the most important number wins?
In this last-to-first-back-to-last trifecta engineered by the now lame-duck defending World Series champion Red Sox the last three seasons, Cespedes has yet to have that kind of impact. But chances are, he will. The 90-loss Red Sox were 48-60 on the day of the trade, 22-30 since. But in the 50 games Cespedes has hit fourth and either been the designated hitter or played left field for Boston, he's batting .274 with five homers, 10 doubles and 32 RBIs, this despite being surrounded by a cadre of mostly Minor Leaguers.
When asked whether Cespedes would be the foundation of next season's lineup, Boston manager John Farrell simply said, "I would think that we'd have some changes when we go through the offseason."
This is Farrell's evaluation of Cespedes:
"Well, he clearly has middle-of-lineup presence," he said. "We've been impressed by his overall ability, the overall skills. Obviously the throwing arm speaks for itself. While there have been times when he has been well above average defensively for us, there's still work to be done with this ballpark, with the wall [in left field]. But he's an RBI guy and he's got a knack for it. He's aggressive in the right spots. And he's given us the ability to lengthen our lineup with his presence behind David [Ortiz]."
That's exactly what he used to do for Oakland's Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson and Co. Cespedes is comfortable with his transition to Boston even as he has watched the A's and their struggles on the periphery.
"I like it here a lot. I was able to adapt here pretty quickly," he said.
And he figures that the A's falling apart can't solely be because he's no longer there.
"No one player helps you win a ballgame," Cespedes said. "That was a great team when I was there and it was a great offense when I was there. There must be something else going on."
Yeah, what's going on is that Cespedes is no longer in Oakland. Now he's the central figure in the future success of the Red Sox.