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Max Rosenfeld

The Yoenis Cespedes Sweepstakes Will Alter National League Pennant Races

Yoenis Cespedes, the most prized free agent in this year’s mediocre class, is set to cash in on a contract upwards of $100 million. Cespedes is an elite outfielder, providing an MVP caliber bat and a Gold Glove level of defense in left field. The question is not whether or not Cespedes is worth such a lucrative contract- in this muddled free agent class, he will surely receive the cash he desires- but rather, who will sign Cespedes to the contract? And when he does sign, how will it influence the playoff landscape moving forward?

Let’s start by examining just how successful Cespedes has been since he left Cuba to play in the Major Leagues. In his first season with the Oakland Athletics, Cespedes posted a 2.9 WAR in 129 games, batting . 292/.356/.505 with 23 home runs and 82 RBI’s. From the onset, Cespedes proved to be a sensational Major League player.

Though Cespedes continued to perform well in Oakland, he truly took off in the 2015 season. Cespedes split time between the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets, and had a career year in doing so. In 2015, Cespedes batted .291/.328/.542 with 35 home runs and 102 RBI’s. He amassed a 6.7 WAR and almost singlehandedly let the Mets to their first division title since 2006.

From August to September, Cespedes went on a historic run in which he slugged 17 home runs in 31 games. The Mets rewarded Cespedes with a lucrative contract in the offseason.

In 2016, Cespedes continued his spectacular play in New York. Though “La Potencia” only played in 132 games, he achieved a 3.2 WAR while smacking 31 home runs, 86 RBI’s, and a .280/.354/.530 slash line. Again, Cespedes was the predominant figure in a season in which the Mets would reach the playoffs for the second straight year.

Advanced analytics show just how valuable Cespedes was in 2016. Despite playing in so few games, Cespedes totaled 87 Runs Created based on wOBA, the second highest mark of his career. He also had a . 251 ISO, tied for his career high. His strikeout percentage was the second lowest of his career, as was his BABIP. His wRC+, runs created per PA, was a whopping 134. The league average for wRC+ is 100.

Cespedes set a new career high with a 21.5% line drive percentage and went to the opposite field more than he ever did in his career, 23.9%. Most incredibly, Cespedes’ hard hit ball percentage went up nearly 4 points from his incredible 2015 campaign, going from 35.8% to 39.3%.

It’s safe to say that Cespedes is one of the top players in Major League Baseball. The advanced defensive metrics back up this fact, too. So which teams are considering signing him?

At the moment, it looks as though the Mets, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and San Francisco Giants appear to be the front runners for the prized free agent. The stakes this raises are obvious.

The Mets need Cespedes more than any other team in the mix. Though they have the starting pitching capable of making another deep October run, Cespedes has been their most valuable offensive weapon the last two seasons. Losing him would be a huge hit to a team looking to maximize their championship window. Question marks in the outfield, such as the lack of production in 2015 from Michael Conforto and Jay Bruce and the possible regression of Curtis Granderson, make Cespedes even more important to the Mets.

Losing him to the division rival Nationals would be truly devastating. The Nationals, as currently constructed, are a threat to win the National League. But still, they have made an unfortunate habit of losing in the NLDS in devastating fashion. Cespedes would be the perfect piece to complement Bryce Harper and Trea Turner in the lineup, and would make up for the potential loss of star catcher Wilson Ramos. Cespedes turns the Nats into a bona fide World Series contender.

The team the Nationals lost to in the NLDS, the Dodgers, would also love to welcome Cespedes to town. The Dodgers have also struggled in recent postseasons, and a star like Cespedes would likely shine in Los Angeles much like he did in New York. The Dodgers just lost Josh Reddick to the Houston Astros and traded Howie Kendrick to the Philadelphia Phillies, putting them in the market for a corner outfielder.

The Giants are a team starving for power. They hit just 130 home runs as a team in 2016, third worst in Major League Baseball. San Francisco thrived on their pitching to reach the postseason, but would surely benefit from adding Cespedes to their roster. Like the Mets, Nationals, and Dodgers, the Giants are a clear threat to win the National League.

Cespedes signing with any of these four teams would surely impact the NL East or NL West races. In fact, his free agency decision could swing the outcome of either one of these tight races. The ball is in Cespedes’ court. It’s time to see who makes the move.

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Max is a student at Saint Joseph's University where he is a Communication Studies major. He is a contributing writer for Baseknock MLB and the host of the Payoff Pitch Podcast, which airs every Tuesday morning.

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