Only in our wildest dreams were the Orioles ever going to be suitors for Yoenis Cespedes this offseason. He was widely regarded as the top free agent available and several big-payroll teams, including the Dodgers and Nationals, were thought to be interested in him. It’s the Mets who’ve come through with the money for Cespedes, though, re-upping with him for four years and $110 million.
That’s a steep price for a 31-year-old outfielder. It’s an average annual value of $27.5 million, though with how Cespedes has performed in New York - a .282/.348/.554 batting line over his 1.5 seasons there - it’s no surprise they feel he’s worth it. He is The Guy, and now he’s getting paid like it. More power to him.
It might seem like a steeper price still given that Cespedes was “only” worth 3.2 fWAR in the 2016 season. However, he was dragged down defensively by the 63 games he was put in center field, where his skills don’t play as well. Leave him in left field, where he has played better, and he won’t have that anchor dragging down his potential value.
What does the signing mean for the Orioles? There are only ripple effects here. The Cespedes signing is another sad reminder that the Orioles will never be in play for the best free agent of anything, at least not any time soon. But we all knew that already. Even if Cespedes had somehow only signed for four years and $80 million, that would have been out of the O’s price range too.
Earlier in the offseason, there was some belief that the Yankees might get in on the Cespedes market, so in that sense, it’s good he signed with the Mets. I’d rather not have Cespedes be on the Yankees, thank you, especially if, as was suggested, a Cespedes signing might further prompt the Yankees to trade away one of their under-performing, high paid outfielders.
There is some direct effect for the O’s, though it’s small. By re-signing Cespedes, the Mets will not receive a compensatory draft pick as a result of losing him. The Mets, with 87 wins, were the only team ahead of the Orioles in that compensation round. This means that the pick the Orioles will gain, assuming Mark Trumbo signs elsewhere, is now #31 overall. It’s not a big thing, but it’s something.
Fellow ESPNer Jerry Crasnick added that the Astros are still seen as a potential Encarnacion destination.
Obviously, the Orioles aren’t going to be signing Encarnacion, either. It would be another set the market type signing, though. If so-and-so is worth this much at the top of the market, then the mid-tier guys who the Orioles are figured to try to target will have their price tags adjusted accordingly as well. Probably upward. Quality costs money, and so does mediocrity.
With less in the way of quality free agent inventory this offseason, the O’s wait it out approach may not be able to bear fruit as much as it has in the past. Now that Cespedes is gone, teams will be turning to players the Orioles might realistically be able to target and signing them while the O’s are still sleeping off their Thanksgiving turkey.