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Unlike Lester, will Red Sox extend Yoenis Cespedes?

Yoenis Cespedes is here for 2015, but will the Red Sox let him walk afterwards, or do they have long-term plans for their new outfielder?

Jason O. Watson

Yoenis Cespedes is now a member of the Boston Red Sox. What remains to be seen is for how long.

While the Sox have clearly been forced out of "win now" mode, the team has maintained all along that they're also not ready to hit the reset button and go full-on rebuild. Certainly the Yoenis Cespedes move is in line with that. While Cespedes is still working on his third year of service time, a clause in his contract ensures that he'll hit free agency after the end of the 2015 season. Thus the message from the front office seems to be clear: we're playing for 2015.

The question becomes whether the Red Sox are really just attempting to get 2015 value out of Cespedes before letting him go as well, or if they're hoping to make a long-term deal with the Cuban outfielder.

Something we should get out of the way first: Yoenis Cespedes has not proven himself to be as valuable a baseball player as Jon Lester. While on some level you're comparing apples (pitchers) to oranges (hitters), the Red Sox didn't simply manage to buy themselves another year of Lester-level production. Cespedeshas produced 7.4 WAR over the course of his career with the Athletics, and is on pace to finish 2014 with somewhere around 3.5. That would be a career-best for Cespedes, which is not surprising since it's just his third season in the MLB.

This might actually end up helping the Red Sox, though, at least when it comes to making this trade last past 2015. A big part of why we're talking about this trade right now is because Lester seemingly priced himself out of a deal with Boston in these past four months. We went from talking about a good pitcher with a big postseason to one of the best pitchers in the game who could well bring in a six-year, $150 million contract.

Cespedes is not that. He'll be expensive by virtue of being a good player with power in an increasingly punishing market. But he's not likely to breach nine figures barring a huge 14-15 months in Fenway. That could leave him very much within Boston's price range.

If that's the plan, then frankly the Red Sox should not waste time. As a power hitter moving from Oakland to Fenway, there's a very real chance Cespedes' numbers take a significant jump in a hurry. If he and his agents are willing to talk right away, then the Red Sox should try and lock him up for the next five-odd years with the understanding that, at the very least, he'll be a power bat who, if not an elite fielder, can handle himself fairly well in the corner. The downside is not significant, the upside is big. Think Shane Victorino, if more expensive.

If that's not...well, then, Cespedes still fits in the short-term plans. He'll be a strong addition to the lineup in 2015, and if they're competitive and not interested in re-signing him, he'll still net a draft pick since those are tied to qualifying offers these days and not arbitration (which his contract precludes the Red Sox from offering)*. If they're not, then they'll probably have some Fenway-boosted numbers and trade value, and we can go through this whole miserable process again next year. Not ideal, obviously, but given that the Red Sox are already up a free draft pick in the equation, also not as bad as having nothing to show for Lester.

For my money, I hope the Red Sox extend Cespedes right away. I also hope they drop whatever they have to in order to bring back Lester in the offseason. While the latter seems a pipe dream, however, the former seems perfectly realistic and reasonable. Which might be why the Red Sox made this trade in the first place.

*[Update] Apparently, Cespedes' contract actually requires the Red Sox to release him upon completion, removing the possibility of a qualifying offer. The situation is not quite as rosy after all.