Yoenis Cespedes is one of the best free agents on the market this offseason, and the St. Louis Cardinals should pursue him.
Election Day is upon us, but I’m voting instead (or rather, dreaming) of big offseason moves for the St. Louis Cardinals. At the top of my ballot — outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Now stay with me here. I know that it has been well-documented at this point that Cardinals GM John Mozeliak intends to find an upgrade defensively in center field, thereby moving Randal Grichuk over to left field for the Redbirds next season. Mo can do this one of two ways: sign one of the free agent center fielders (and that list isn’t great this offseason) or make a trade for one. Names like Dexter Fowler or a guy like Carlos Gomez are out there on the free agent market, but they aren’t the best options and Fowler has a qualifying offer attached to him too.
It seems that if Mozeliak is going to make a big move (which the Cardinals need to do this offseason) it would come via trading for a guy like Arizona’s A.J. Pollock (you can read my thoughts on him here) or Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon. These are big trades, and they would likely require some major prospects that the Cardinals would have to forfeit.
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That brings us back to Cespedes. No, I’m not saying that Cespedes is going to be Mozeliak’s first option. At best right now, it is unlikely that he will pursue Cespedes. However, if Mozeliak doesn’t like the options on the free agent market and can’t make the big trade that he wants to get a guy like Pollock (without forfeiting Alex Reyes or other big name prospects), then Mozeliak has to at least consider Cespedes as an option. I believe it is possible. Mozeliak has said as much that if he can’t find that center fielder that they want, then Grichuk would stay put in center field and the Cardinals would pursue a left fielder instead.
So, let’s take a look at Cespedes’ numbers this past season with the New York Mets:
The offensive numbers clearly stand out. Cespedes had another great, All-Star season with the Mets blasting 31 homers and slugging .530. It’s no secret that the power is what makes Cespedes most appealing. But his defense isn’t as bad as you think — so long as he isn’t playing in center field. Cespedes posted an atrocious -10.6 UZR in 495.1 innings played in center field with the Mets last season, but in left field it was a completely different story. In 550.2 innings in left field, Cespedes posted a 3.9 UZR and had 4 defensive runs saved. For comparison, your St. Louis Cardinals left fielders posted a total UZR of -6.3 with -10 defensive runs saved last season.
So, clearly Cespedes playing left field for the Cardinals would not be a liability defensively — he would be an improvement. While we are on the topic, I’m not panicking about Grichuk staying in center field. Grichuk posted a -0.9 UZR in center last season, which certainly isn’t great but it most definitely isn’t awful. If you watched enough games last season you know that there were simply times that Grichuk just took bad routes to balls that should have been caught. Even with the negative UZR rating last year, Grichuk still racked up 7 DRS, which ranked 5th among National League center fielders (even ahead of the great defensive wizard Jason Heyward).
I believe if Grichuk continues to work on his route efficiency then he will be just fine for the Cardinals in center field. Heck, the guy has won a gold glove in the minors for his defensive ability manning that position. Keep him there and give him a chance to prove himself both offensively AND defensively.
The biggest reason I’m a proponent of Cespedes goes back to that power. Cespedes would give the Cardinals a middle of the order bat that pitchers would truly fear and have to think twice about pitching to. Over his career, the 31-year old has averaged a .494 slugging percentage with 31 homers and 104 RBI a season and has posted a total career fWAR of 18.6. If his last two seasons are any indication, Cespedes isn’t slowing down. His power seems to be aging well even to the degree of sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, who continue to show fantastic power displays each season in spite of their age. Imagine a lineup card with Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty and Cespedes at the very top. Sounds nice, no?
Age, obviously, is the biggest factor going against signing Cespedes to a long term deal. He will most likely want at least 4 or 5 years and a bunch of money on the table, but as we know the Cardinals have that money, so it’s time to spend it. I believe Cespedes still has 5 or 6 great years left ahead of him. The toughest part of going after Cespedes is the fact that the Cardinals would also have to surrender a pick since the Mets have given him that qualifying offer. But surrendering a pick for one season is a much better option that trading several highly touted prospects for guys like Pollock and Blackmon, especially for the latter who is about the same age with a less proven track record of offensive success.
We know one thing — Mozeliak needs to make a big splash this offseason to stay competitive with the now (I can’t believe I’m saying this) World Champion Chicago Cubs. Mozeliak doesn’t have a history of spending a ton of money on free agents, but with a guy like Cespedes, now might be the time to finish first in a bidding war for a change. But the Cardinals GM will have to make a decision fairly quickly in regards to Cespedes because the Mets reportedly don’t plan to wait this year on trying to re-sign their slugger long term.
What are your thoughts? What free agent signings or trades are you voting for this offseason? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know. Oh, and be sure you actually vote this Election Day, too. That’s also important. Thanks for reading.