As has been the theme of the offseason, the Orioles are once again entrenched in some juicy gossip.
MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported yesterday that the O's, along with the White Sox, are being labeled as the frontrunners to sign Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Naturally, the news comes with unparalleled stances of understanding and confusion. Despite the addition of Hyun Soo-Kim, the Orioles still have a need in the outfield, and Cespedes is an impactful bat with an impressive resume in four big-league seasons. Yet, there is the instinctual feeling of hesitancy when it comes to the possibility of being the team that chances a 30-year-old outfielder for what should be a contract hovering around $100M.
If you are not in possession of a Twitter handle dedicated to Cespedes and the fashion in which he roasts pigs over open fires, it can safely be said that you would be open to both a deciphering of his pros, as well as his cons. Seeing as how the most exciting news in days was the re-arrival of Paul Janish on a minor league deal, there probably aren't many other ways in which to feel as though I'm accomplishing much.
1. With Cespedes, you know what you're going to get
Though it depends on if you like what you're getting.
In four seasons in the U.S., Cespedes has accumulated a 162-game slash of .271/.319/.486 to go with a 30 HR and 103 RBI average. As history has proven, he's going to hack at everything (50.7 Swing% since 2012), probably not walk much (6.1 BB% since 2012) and play uncharacteristically solid defense (22 DRS since 2014). As is with all ballplayers, you hope the good outweighs the bad. Cespedes isn't the most disciplined hitter at the plate, and his casually-aggressive defensive style happened to be the preamble for what was a tough-luck World Series for Yo. Even so, Cespedes is a prime example of one of Buck Showalter's potent quotables when he talks about "contact-to-damage" ratio.
You swallow the swings and misses and bad at-bats for the 70-plus extra-base hits and moments of grandeur. Orioles fans are plenty familiar with this style of play, and it's a formula that's produced more winning than losing the past three years. If you want more of the same, plugging Cespedes into right field is a move for you.
2. Cespedes isn't Travis Snider
Or Nolan Reimold, Junior Lake, Gerardo Parra, Chris Parmelee, or even David Lough.
The hope when spending approximately $15M-20M per season on one player is that said player contributes at a level pertinent to the money. That also means living off the skeletons of Quad-A types is no longer necessary. Rather than projecting that a player, such as Snider, will carry over one above-average sample into 162 games, the acquisition of someone such as Cespedes forfeits that attempt at sneaky value. Yes, the Orioles would have to ante up in order to secure Cespedes, but by doing so, you are not only paying for home runs and RBIs, but the ease of mind that there is no longer a gaping hole in the corner outfield.
Between Orioles right fielders in 2015, a platoon that included Chris Davis for 30 games, only managed to slash .242/.290/.350, with 9 of the 14 home runs accounted for by Davis. With Cespedes, credibility is instant.
3. Cespedes likes seafood
Personally, this is the most inspiring revelation to be revealed in regards to Cespedes. I mean, look at all those crabs.
Is it improbable that he single-handedly downed what appears to be a few righteous bushels of blue crabs? Yeah, improbable, but not impossible. Seeing as how no teammates, coaches or other compadres are also in the picture, who's to say he didn't dominate an assembly of the Atlantic Ocean's most desirable resource all on his own?
I can see it now. A Friday night swashbuckling of the Yankees at Camden Yards, and Big Yo celebrates with a visit to Costa's, where his reputation rises from folk hero to actual hero. It's far too perfect to deny.
1. Do the Orioles have enough swings and misses incumbently to go around?
This past season, the O's owned a collective .307 OBP and 7.0 BB%, both equating to the seventh-lowest marks in all of baseball. The Orioles also struck out the third-most in the league at a 22.2 K%.
In his career, Cespedes currently holds a .319 OBP, 6.1 BB% and 20.9 K%, numbers that more or less scope perfectly the missteps of the present Orioles blueprint (and even more now with Mark Trumbo). Depending on your personal view, the pressing issue of getting on base may supersede the desire to reallocate Chris Davis' absent home runs, instead focusing on revitalizing baseball's third-lowest contact rate. Perhaps the simple persuasion of putting more balls in play counteracts a projected decline in home runs, turning the Orioles into a more well-rounded offensive ball club.
That would also give the Orioles cheaper options in which to shop, such as Denard Span (career .352 OBP), or still pony up for a player like Alex Gordon (.348 OBP) that more fits overall needs and wants. It's up to Dan Duquette to decipher where he wants to go, but Cespedes signals the team has no intention to change it's offensive ways.
2. Is a possible Cespedes contract a looming albatross?
As most of us know, the Orioles are only in guarantee with Darren O'Day for the 2019 season. Regulars Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy aren't getting any younger, and though club-controlled youngsters Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman and Mychal Givens aren't scheduled to be free-agents until 2020, '21 and '22 respectively, the fate of the Orioles' future lies in whether or not Manny Machado is in Baltimore over that span and beyond. Machado is presently available as a free-agent following the 2018 season, and though a lot can happen in three years, a lot of nothing can too. If the Orioles are faced with a broken-down roster, a pricy Cespedes would certainly be an unnecessary burden.
Even if the Orioles are in continued contention, Cespedes is going to have to continue on the kind of career trajectory into his mid-30's in order for the deal not to sour. And that brings us to our next point...
3. Have we seen the best of Cespedes?
It's a fair question for the now 30-year-old outfielder.
Upon his arrival in New York, more importantly the National League, Cespedes exploded in his 57 games, batting .287/.337/.604 with 17 HRs and 44 RBIs. His second-half 25.0 HR/FB%, .594 SLG, 54 RBIs and .311 ISO were all top-ten finishes in baseball, and was the kind of over-performing that Cespedes dreamed of realizing. The thing is, are we ever going to see that again? There's a real risk in signing an outfielder whose career has majorly encapsulated around the question of his value. "What can we get for him?" became "how much is he worth?", with unsteadiness seemingly following Cespedes the past two seasons. There isn't any physical evidence that the 'contract year" is a real thing, but if it is, he's been sunk in it much longer than others have.
Now that he is soon to no longer be sought after, but rather situated, are we expecting a drop-off? Will newfound comfortability accelerate or decelerate Cespedes? Also, now at 30, it's not a question of if, but rather when he begins to slow down, and is said deterioration a risk the Orioles should take? There is obviously an ideal picture at the end of what should be a four or five-year contract, one where Cespedes continues to hit home runs and drive in runs at an above-average rate.
But can we expect this investment to ever be worth it?