Houston Astros: Cespedes Would put the Outfield at Elite Level

Oct 30, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder Yoenis Cespedes drives in a run with a sacrifice fly against the Kansas City Royals in the 6th inning in game three of the World Series at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 30, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; New York Mets center fielder Yoenis Cespedes drives in a run with a sacrifice fly against the Kansas City Royals in the 6th inning in game three of the World Series at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

We Continue the Cespedes Possibly to the Houston Astros Talk Hoping it Sticks.

It has been well over a decade since the Houston Astros have been linked to a free agent of Yoenis Cespedes’s caliber. When Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens signed in 2004, Astros fans savored the joys that came with extremely high-profile franchise-altering free agency.

But, as we have covered extensively here at CTH, the Astros do not have the financial flexibility that the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, or Boston Red Sox have. Our free agents, like the team’s rebuild itself, must be carefully calculated and planned. And that is where Cespedes comes in.

When you compare him to George Springer and Carlos Gomez, exceptional talents in their own rights, it is clear that Cespedes could elevate the Astros’ outfield to one of the best in the league.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first. Cespedes, 29 years-old, struck out 141 times, more than both players. His BABIP and OBP were greater than Gomez’s but less than Springer’s, and he also posted the lowest walk rate of the three. Springer and Gomez are both faster than Cespedes, who yielded only seven steals last year.

However, Cespedes’ 35 home runs and 105 RBIs were better than Springer and Gomez combined. His excellent .251 ISO was miles ahead of Springer’s above average .183 and Gomez’s average .154. He also slugged .542 to Springer’s .459 and Gomez’s .409. Cespedes’ wRC+, a measurement of how many runs a single player created, was 135 to Springer’s 129 and Gomez’s 96. He was worth 6.7 WAR, more than Springer and Gomez combined.

Cespedes won a Gold Glove last year for his tremendous defense in left field. His 18.8 UZR was third-highest in the entire league, and only Kevin Kiermaier and Jason Heyward finished ahead of him. His exceptional throwing arm would be an excellent fit in the Astros’ shallow left field. The Astros would have two starting Gold Glove-winning outfielders and one hopeful in the form of Springer.

Peter Gammons started the Cespedes-to-the-Astros fever with this tweet:

To expand on Gammons’ point, let’s look at Cespedes’ previous ballparks’ home-runs per-game via ESPN’s Park Factors. Since 2005, Minute Maid Park has averaged 10th-best in the league in home runs per game. O.co Coliseum is 23rd, Fenway Park is 22nd, Citi Field is 18th, and Comerica Park is 16th. Minute Maid Park would be the most home-run friendly home ballpark of Cespedes’ career.

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Cespedes certainly pulls the ball more often than not but is statistically not an extreme pull hitter. In 2015, 22 of Cespedes’ 35 home runs were pulled, and only two were pushed. The remaining eleven were scattered between left center and right center.

Suddenly, those Crawford Boxes get a lot more interesting.

According to ESPN’s Hit Tracker, ten of his home-runs were just enough to clear the wall and eight were no-doubters. The just-enough home-runs, as you may have guessed, came mostly from pitcher-friendly parks. What would those numbers be when Minute Maid Park is “home” for half of the season?

Keep in mind, too, that Carlos Gomez can still be one of the top outfielders in the league in 2016. He hit double-digit home runs every year since 2012, capping at 23 in 2014 and 24 in 2013. He only hit 12 in 2015. He stole 37 bases in 2012, 40 in 2013, 34 in 2014, and only 17 in 2015. Going from 30-30 potential to barely double digits in home runs and steals is not exactly what the Astros expected from Gomez.

From his debut in 2007 to 2015, Gomez is 7th in the league and 1st among all outfielders in Defensive Runs Above Average (DEF). DEF calculates a player’s defensive value with positional adjustment factored in, allowing it to be compared between positions.

The only players with a higher DEF than Gomez’s 96.9 are Brandon Phillips, Brian McCann, Dustin Pedroia, Russell Martin, J.J. Hardy, and Yadier Molina. If we adjust the scale to 2012 to 2015, Gomez is 14th overall and 4th among active outfielders, behind Lorenzo Cain, Jason Heyward, and Juan Lagares.

Oh, by the way, Cespedes was traded mid-year, so he will not cost the Astros a draft pick if he signs.

So, with Cespedes on the roster, the Astros have options with Gomez, whose contract is up at the end of the year. If Gomez continues to falter or returns to his previous offensive form, the Astros will either flip him at the deadline or extend him.

Luhnow will be shrewd with his deals, and one can be certain that the Astros will get the maximum return possible if Gomez is to be dealt. But don’t let a down season and a change of environment sully a five-tool player’s potential, especially in a walk year. They didn’t trade Brett Phillips and Josh Hader just to see Gomez walk.

Enter the opt-out clause. One can safely bet on the inclusion of one in Cespedes’ contract. If, like Justin Upton’s contract, the opt-out kicks in after two years, the Astros will not be left with a void if Cespedes or Gomez leave. Daz Cameron, Kyle Tucker, Derek Fisher, and Tony Kemp could all be ready to take over for Cespedes or Gomez at that point. The Astros outfield will be a challenge to balance, but the Astros’ front office has prepared for all of these scenarios.

On the other hand, Springer is a lock to be with the Astros for the foreseeable future. Remember, he put up Justin Upton numbers in a season that was shortened 60 games because of injuries. A full year of Springer would make this outfield trio, even more, fearsome.

Let’s take a look at the potential lineup.

  • Altuve, 2B
  • Springer, RF
  • Correa, SS
  • Cespedes, LF
  • Gomez, CF
  • Gattis/Rasmus, DH
  • Valbuena, 3B
  • Castro, C
  • Singleton, 1B

That’s something to get excited about. Colby Rasmus adds extra versatility as a fourth outfielder and DH. Evan Gattis and Rasmus both crush righties, but dividing DH duties could create a very intriguing platoon. Jake Marisnick could stay on as an excellent defensive replacement, and Preston Tucker will surely be bumped to Triple-A.

Depending on Spring Training performances, the Astros could also see reigning MiLB player of the year A.J. Reed at 1B and contact-hitting top prospect Colin Moran at 3B. Both players inject additional offense and add roster flexibility. The Astros’ offense would look like something out of MLB: The Show.

Next: Houston Astros: If Cespedes Signs, Which Outfielder Leaves?

While the actual odds vary depending on where you look, the Astros are overwhelming favorites to win the AL West. If we look at Bovada, they have the third-best odds in the American League to win the 2016 World Series. The addition of a dynamic superstar in Cespedes should catapult the Astros to World Series favorites. Luhnow has to be careful with the money that he spends, but if the team is to make a substantial splash this winter, Yoenis Cespedes, and the Astros are a perfect fit.