Yoenis Cespedes has wasted no time making his presence felt as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
The powerful outfielder has just 47 plate appearances under his belt for the Red Sox, and it's true his .239/.255/.435 line might not look terribly impressive. But Cespedes has already shown a flare for the dramatic, hitting back-to-back, go-ahead eighth-inning homers earlier this week. It's not a coincidence that the Red Sox are 7-5 since they traded for Cespedes at the deadline.
In Cespedes, the Sox have a legitimate right-handed power hitter who lengthens the middle of their lineup. The trio of David Ortiz, Cespedes and Mike Napoli batting third, fourth and fifth, respectively, is a daunting proposition for opposing pitchers. Similarly, the combination of Cespedes and Jackie Bradley Jr. patrolling the outfield puts opposing baserunners on notice.
In short, Cespedes is the most athletic, toolsiest player the Red Sox have in their organization right now, and while the cost to acquire him was steep, he adds some much-needed offensive upside to a team that's scored the fifth-fewest runs in the game this year.
For all these reasons and more, the Red Sox should take a long, hard look at extending Cespedes beyond 2015, as they look to fill one of the few long-term gaps their farm system has been unable to plug.
Right-handed power is one of the rarer commodities in the game today. Last year, only seven right-handed hitters hit 30 or more home runs, and only 10 more righties hit between 25-29 homers. Cespedes was one such batter, of course, mashing 26 homers despite the pitcher-friendly confines of O.Co Coliseum in Oakland.
Before the trade for Cespedes, the Red Sox didn't have a reliable source of right-handed power other than Napoli, who's suffered through myriad injuries this season. Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks have power potential, but they've yet to demonstrate the ability to turn that potential into results at the MLB level.
Even if we extend our parameters of the search for power to left-handers, Boston was fairly unimpressive this season. Including David Ortiz' 26 bombs, the Sox have just 89 homers on the year, good for the fifth-lowest total in the league.
And despite all the talent in the Red Sox farm system, this is an organization that (with Bogaerts now graduated) lacks a true power hitter in its ranks who figures to see the majors over the next few years.
Mookie Betts and Blake Swihart profile as above-average offensive players, but power isn't a calling card for either. Deven Marrero's value lies in his defense, Manny Margot is more of a well-rounded talent than a power threat, and Garin Cecchini's inability to hit for power has been well documented.
The best power-hitting prospect in Boston's system is probably Rafael Devers, who, as a 17-year-old in rookie ball, is at least three seasons away from making an impact at Fenway.
Extending Cespedes would give the Sox a power-hitting cornerstone in the middle of their lineup to rely upon beyond 2015, when Napoli is slated to become a free agent and when Ortiz will be over 40. Quite simply, he's a source of dependable power that Boston hasn't been able to replicate through its minor league system.
The free-agent market doesn't figure to be much more fruitful in producing power hitters, either. Fewer marquee players are reaching free agency in today's game, as the game's economics dictate that locking up young, productive players is the safer bet. There are exceptions, of course, but free agents today generally consist of role players or players who are well past their 30th birthdays.
For example, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the premier right-handed outfielders in the 2015 free-agent class include Nelson Cruz, Mike Morse, Michael Cuddyer, Josh Willingham and Torii Hunter. These players have their uses, but none can match Cespedes' upside or all-around ability to impact a game.
It's similarly difficult to find talent like Cespedes available on the trading block. The Giancarlo Stanton pipe dream aside, there aren't many right-handed slugging outfielders available for the Red Sox to try and pry away. The Blue Jays aren't trading Jose Bautista. The Orioles aren't trading Adam Jones. The Braves aren't trading Justin Upton. And, oddly enough, the Angels aren't trading Mike Trout.
If we engage in pure speculation, there are a few outfield talents, right-handed or otherwise, who could be available. The Rockies could look to move Carlos Gonzalez. The Reds could move Jay Bruce. The Nats could move Jayson Werth or Ryan Zimmerman. And yes, it's within the realm of possibility that the Marlins move Stanton, too.
But why give up a bevy of prospects for one of these players—if said players are available at all—when all it takes to lock down Cespedes now is some measure of financial flexibility?
Earlier this week, WEEI.com's Alex Speier took a look at what a Cespedes contract extension might look like, using a variety of recent free-agent contracts and extensions to give us an idea as to what Cespedes might earn.
On the low end of the spectrum, Speier references the four-year, $48 million agreement Nick Swisher reached with the Indians and the four-year, $60 million agreement Curtis Granderson reached with the Mets.
On the high end, Speier mentions the five-year, $75 million contract signed by B.J. Upton, and the five-year, $90 million extension signed by Hunter Pence.
An extension for Cespedes may very well fall closer to the Pence side of the equation than the Granderson side. But it's not so crazy to think that Cespedes could be worth a deal that pays him between $17 and $18 million a year.
Plus, even if Cespedes doesn't fully live up to his contract, the Sox can afford to take somewhat of a financial hit. Dustin Pedroia represents their only significant financial investment beyond 2015, and the organization has done well to avoid the shackles that come with giving out seven- or eight-year deals to hitters and five- or six-year deals to pitchers.
By locking up Cespedes to a four- or five-year deal sometime between now and next April, the Red Sox will assure themselves of having the services of one of the better right-handed power hitters in the game for the next half-decade. Given the dearth of right-handed power in the game right now and Boston's financial flexibility, it's a move they should make.
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