We hinted at it yesterday when we wrote about the Braves and Justin Upton. Now let’s move past what’s already happened and look towards the future. Yoenis Cespedes makes a lot of sense for the Atlanta Braves, who have apparently showed interest in the 30-year-old Cuban outfielder.
— Mark Bowman (@mlbbowman) January 13, 2016
Some of you might like the idea just because of the star power. Some of you might hate the idea because it messes up what the Braves are trying to do with the rebuild. I love the idea because it makes Atlanta good in the present and the future.
The Braves’ lineup already isn’t that bad. It’s definitely an improvement from last year. Here is how the lineup projects to shake out presently for the 2016 season:
- Ender Inciarte CF
- Erick Aybar SS
- Freddie Freeman 1B
- Hector Olivera LF
- Nick Markakis RF
- Kelly Johnson/Adonis Garcia 3B
- Tyler Flowers/AJ Pierzynski C
- Jace Peterson 2B
Are Garcia’s numbers from 2015 sustainable through 2016? Maybe not. Is Olivera going to be that middle-of-the-lineup bat that the Braves traded for at last year’s deadline? Maybe. Those are the big questions in the lineup right now. Here is what is certain. Inciarte is an upgrade offensively and defensively over Cameron Maybin, Aybar is a big step back defensively but a big upgrade offensively from Andrelton Simmons, Markakis should exhibit more power and a lower batting average and Flowers will be better than Christian Bethancourt. I see a lot of positives in this lineup that only lacks one thing. That one thing is a big power hitter. What exactly is Cespedes?
I don’t know what issue with Olivera in the outfield is, as that’s one of the most baffling moves and trades the Braves have made in recent years. If he’s going to play 3rd base for you, that’s great. If he’s going to play left field for you when you’re stacked in the outfield, that’s not as great. The signing of Cespedes really depends on the Braves moving Olivera back to third or shipping him out of Atlanta altogether. If you were able to move Olivera to third, you could shift Markakis to left and move Cespedes’ laser arm to right. Here is what a theoretical lineup with Cespedes would look like:
- Inciarte CF
- Aybar SS
- Freeman 1B
- Cespedes RF
- Markakis LF
- Olivera 3B
- Flowers/Pierzynski C
- Peterson 2B
Ladies and gentlemen, that is a darn good lineup to enter the 2016 season. Do you think this lineup would struggle to produce runs? Your only weaknesses, from what I can see, would be Flowers’ low batting average and on-base percentage, and Peterson, who at the very least plays well defensively. Cespedes gives you 30-home run potential and gives someone to protect Freeman. That’s what this Braves lineup is missing.
If the Braves sign Cespedes, I think they become a dark horse for an NL playoff bid. Certainly a lot of things would have to go right in order for that to happen, but it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.
Here’s another reason why Cespedes makes sense now. He doesn’t cost you anything. There’s no competitive balance pick attached to him as he was not offered arbitration. For a team that values draft picks, Cespedes makes even more sense. Signing him wouldn’t change your draft strategy and it doesn’t hurt you for the future.
Speaking of the future, a five or six-year deal wouldn’t hurt the Braves either. Especially with opt-out clauses being ever in the loop. Offer Cespedes a contract that gives him an opt-out clause after two or three seasons. If he wants to test the market again, let him. If he wants to stay on your team, let him. Everyone gets to win with this hypothetical scenario. The Braves get a power bat and Cespedes gets a chance to compete for championships for years to come, with the Braves farm system being as stacked as it is.
Sure, this all sounds great, but there are some things that need to happen.
- Cespedes is going to have to lower his demand. The Braves will kick the tires on everyone available, but Cespedes’ price has to drop, in order for the Braves to sign him. I’m not sure that’s a likely scenario as the 30-year-old outfielder has already stated that he would go back to New York, if the contracts he was offered were similar. The Braves will have to offer more than New York will, and I’m not sure that would happen with the Braves payroll restraints.
- Nick Swisher and/or Michael Bourn will need to be shipped out of Atlanta. Both veterans are making a lot of money to be bench players and it makes little sense to have them on the roster for 162 games. The problem with that is that the Braves are going to need to swallow some of that salary and another needs to want one of them. If you can get one or both of them off the roster, it would give you a little more payroll flexibility and a spot for Cespedes.
- The Braves need to be serious about contending. This rebuild is going about as well as I could have imagined and I can’t believe that I believe this team could hypothetically compete in 2016. It’s a possibility, but the Braves need to pay the guy. I think that a six-year, $120M contract would be what it would take and I’d go ahead and offer him that. Sure it’s steep and the Braves have been burned by big contracts before (Melvin Upton Jr., Dan Uggla and Derek Lowe), but this is a chance I think the Braves could afford to take.
With all of Braves GM John Copollela’s talk of wanting to be competitive in 2016, this is a move that should be made, but for the right price. Don’t offer Cespedes a big, outstanding contract, but don’t offer him scraps and expect him to jump at it. Offer the man what you really believe he’s worth and sell him on the idea that this team can be competitive in the present and future.
Yoenis Cespedes makes a lot of sense in Atlanta, but don’t hold your breath on it happening.