The shock of the Red Sox trade of Jon Lester for Yoenis Cespedes, the pig roasting, power-hitting outfielder of Cuban descent, is starting to wear off. Cespedes made his Red Sox debut on Sunday, going 1-for-4 out of the cleanup spot in the lineup in the team's 6-4 loss to the Yankees. Now that the novelty of seeing Cespedes in a new uniform is beginning to wear off, the team's biggest extension candidate's next contract is now at the forefront of the team's matters.
Cespedes' contract contains a unique stipulation that prevents the Red Sox from offering the qualifying offer, untying him from a first-round pick and making his a free agent after the 2015 season. Going into free agency, Cespedes will be 30 years old and will be completing his fourth major league season. Given the outfielder's production so far in his career, Cespedes will likely garner a significant contract from whatever team he decides to sign with.
The Campechuela, Cuba native represents less of a risk moving forward based on the mere fact that he is an outfielder versus a pitcher, logically making it more likely that the Red Sox will sign him to an extension. Given the team's new "philosophy" of signing players to contracts that minimizes risk, a contract for Cespedes would fit within such team direction.
Given Cespedes annual production to this point in his career, a contract for Cespedes would likely not exceed nine figures, despite the outfielder's ability to hit for power, an ability that has proved scarce on the free agent market in recent years. Cespedes' highest annual wins above replacement total came in his rookie season at 3.9. According to FanGraphs, one WAR is equal to $5 million, making Cespedes' rookie year worth $19.5 million dollars.
One agent suggested that a comparable player to Cespedes is Nick Swisher, who signed a four-year, $56 million contract with the Cleveland Indians prior to the 2013 season at the age of 32. In the four years with the Yankees leading up to his free agency following the 2012 season, Swisher had a 162 game average of .268/.367/.483 with 26 home runs, 87 RBIs, 34 doubles, 133 strikeouts and 82 walks. So far in his career, Cespedes has a 162 game average of .262/.318/.470 with 26 home runs, 108 RBIs, 32 doubles, 142 strikeouts and 48 walks.
Swisher provides the ability to get on base at a higher clip while Cespedes has age and, presumably, some untapped potential on his side. That being said, the two are about equal defenders according to defensive WAR -- both aren't particularly adroit fielders, despite Cespedes' rocket arm -- and provide similar offensive production.
While Swisher's contract is a solid starting off point for the two sides to start negotiating, it is important to note that Swisher was attached to draft compensation due to a qualifying offer. If Cespedes makes it to the open market, there will likely be more competition for the outfielder's services to drive up the 28-year-old's price because he will not be tied to compensation. Factoring that and the annual market inflation on contracts, it's safe to presume that Cespedes could get a contract in the range of $17-18 million and five years, a number corroborated by an agent, should Cespedes' performance not deviate from his career norms.
While it will be exciting to see what feats Cespedes will accomplish with the Red Sox, the outfielder's contract situation continues to loom in the background. If the Red Sox plan on retaining their power-hitting outfielder, a rare commodity on the open market, the team will have to make a commitment longer than three years, something they have not done with the exception of Dustin Pedroia, and plan to have Cespedes as a fixture in the outfield for years to come.