The Mets made a big improvement to their lineup by acquiring Yoenis Cespedes just minutes before the trade deadline. To do so, they had to part with a couple of minor league pitchers: Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa, a reasonable cost to bring in a hitter of Cespedes’s caliber on a team that sorely needed help at the plate.
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The 29-year-old Cespedes is a well-known Cuban outfielder. He first made an impression on American baseball fans with his outstanding performance in the 2011 World Baseball Classic. He starred in a now-legendary video designed to attract the attention of major league scouts, the end of which featured a pig roast that spawned a popular Twitter account in its honor. By the time he defected from Cuba, gained residency in the Dominican Republic, and was deemed a free agent by Major League Baseball, his signing was one of the bigger ones of the 2011-2012 offseason. He landed with the Oakland’s A’s in February 2012, signing a four-year, $36 million contract.
Before he did, though, Cespedes and his family lived through some very tough times as they defected from Cuba and ultimately made their way to the United States. Cespedes did so first, and his family—including his mother, who was a very good softball player, made Cespedes his first bat, and taught him how to hit—had an even more harrowing experience making their way to the US, all of which was detailed in an excellent piece by Susan Slusser in the San Francisco Chronicle.
As a hitter, power is Cespedes’s best asset. In four seasons in the big leagues, his single-season high is 26 home runs. Aside from a brief stint with the Red Sox last year after Oakland traded him there, however, he has not played his home games in hitter-friendly parks. His .473 slugging percentage in the big leagues since 2012 ranks 38th among 270 qualified hitters over that span. In total, he’s been a .269/.317/.473 hitter with a 117 wRC+ for his career.
Having been traded by the Red Sox to the Tigers for Rick Porcello over the winter, Cespedes has been even better this year. He’s hit .293/.323/.506 with 18 home runs and a 125 wRC+. If you watched the Home Run Derby at Citi Field, you’ll probably remember the show he put on that night. But just in case you didn’t or don’t:
If there’s been a flaw with the right-handed-hitting Cespedes this year, it’s been his performance against left-handed pitchers. He’s hit just .183/.236/.329 against them, though he’s only had 89 of those plate appearances so far this year. But while he has been a better hitter against right-handed pitchers in his major league career as a whole, he has handled lefties fairly well, with a .249/.316/.452 line against them.
In addition to his ability to hit, Cespedes can throw. Let’s just let the video do the talking here.
Add it all up, and Cespedes has been a good major league player. Fangraphs rated him at 2.9 wins above replacement in 2012, 2.4 in 2013, and 3.3 in 2014. He’s already at 4.2 fWAR this year, thanks to getting a lot more love from the defensive metrics that factor into the equation this year than he has in the past.
Yoenis Cespedes isn’t Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. But he makes the Mets significantly better immediately, and he should be a hell out a lot of fun to watch for the rest of the season. His contract includes some unique details that would make it difficult for the Mets to sign him long-term, if they were to want to do so, but even if he is just a rental, he's a very exciting one.