Today, we're reminded that free agency almost always delivers handsomely for the best players, and isn't that the way the system is supposed to work?
During an offseason in which we've seen Zack Greinke, Jason Heyward, etc., strike it rich, Yoenis Cespedes has had to wait a little longer for a market to develop. In the end, that market has developed, and a nice market it appears to be.
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Cespedes is apparently being pursued by the Nationals, White Sox and Mets, according to various reports. There could be a vast difference in the size and length of the contracts, but he's clearly going to do fine financially and not have to consider a one-year contract that would allow him another crack at free agency 10 months from now.
Somehow, it feels right that the Nationals have jumped into the mix. They aggressively pursued Heyward. To add Cespedes as a fallback option would give them an outfield capable of 100 home runs. This is a team of unfulfilled expectations, and general manager Mike Rizzo has relentlessly pursued upgrades this offseason.
Would the Nats match the six-year, $132.75 million contract the Tigers just gave Justin Upton? That deal does not seem unreasonable for a 30-year-old outfielder with a similar skill set.
Would the White Sox go even higher than that? Cespedes would be a nice finishing touch to an offseason in which they've already added Todd Frazier, Brett Lawrie and Alex Avila. The White Sox depth chart has an outfield of Melky Cabrera, Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia. Cespedes would be an improvement at all three spots.
Would Cespedes give the White Sox enough talent to contend in a jumbled American League Central? Yes, definitely.
The Mets appear to be interested in something smaller and shorter, and they seem comfortable with the idea of letting Juan Lagares take over permanently in center field.
Some of us expected Cespedes to be long gone from the market by now, but budgets and needs don't always line up with the marketplace. In this case, teams prioritized starting pitching.
As for outfielders, at least a few teams had Cespedes ranked behind only Heyward. That Upton and Alex Gordon were signed first isn't earthshaking. Upton is a five-tool player who was a perfect fit for the Tigers. Gordon dipped his toe into the waters of free agency, but ultimately returned to the Royals.
Here's what Cespedes brings to the table: almost everything. He hits with power and is plenty athletic enough to play center field. His 6.3 WAR (Wins Above Replacement), according to baseball-reference.com, ranked 11th overall in baseball, an eyelash behind Heyward (6.5) and just in front of Anthony Rizzo (6.2).
To be mentioned in the same breath as those two superstars says plenty about the player some team will be getting. In four seasons, Cespedes has averaged 31 doubles, 26 home runs and an .805 OPS.
The Nationals apparently are late entrants into the Cespedes market. They're set at the corner-outfield spots with Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth, and earlier this offseason, they acquired Ben Revere from the Blue Jays to play center field.
One possibility would be trading Revere. If that happens, Rizzo ought to consider moving Harper to center field and giving him ownership of that position.
The Nats are already the consensus favorite to win the National League East, but they would be strengthened by an outfield of Werth, Harper and Cespedes. Few teams have ever put this much power into a single outfield.
Is there a mystery team out there? The Astros have been monitoring the market, but they are also comfortable with an outfield of George Springer, Carlos Gomez and Colby Rasmus.
These surely have been some nervous days for Cespedes as he watched other big-ticket outfielders disappear from the marketplace. To have a player of his caliber still unsigned in the third week of January is not unheard of, but it's unusual. Looks like things will end up working just fine for him.
Cespedes has earned this opportunity. Good for him.