On Sunday, Peter Gammons of MLB network made waves among the Astros Twitterverse by reporting that he has "thrice" heard the Astros come up in connection with free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Thrice today I had execs say "watch the Astros on Cespedes." 5th best HR park in MLB in '15. Good lineup. OK, I'm watching— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) January 17, 2016
The obvious reaction is to point out that the Astros would have a log jam of outfielders, including no-doubt starters George Springer and Carlos Gomez, joined by a mishmash of folks who all have solid arguments to be starting themselves. These candidates include Preston Tucker (100 wRC+ in his rookie year, and a RHP killer), ski goggle enthusiast Colby Rasmus, and elite speedster Jake Marisnick (h/t reillocity for the link).
Who goes? Who stays?
Moot point, because the Astros should never, ever sign Yoenis Cespedes.
First, Cespedes is reportedly seeking a 6-year $132M deal, which has the potential of becoming an albatross as he approaches his age 35 and 36 seasons at the end. That's the type of deal that the Astros could really regret because it has the potential to squeeze finances and prevent either extensions to home grown players or signing future free agents when there is a position of greater need than the 2016 outfield.
Second, Cespedes isn't a great hitter.
I'll pause while the over-reactors pontificate.
He's not a great hitter. He's a good hitter coming off of a magnificent walk year. And the most important thing to know is: never get involved in a land war in Asia. Only slightly less important is this: never overpay for a free agent after an awesome walk year that could be classified as an outlier.
From 2013 to 2014, two whole seasons, Cespedes was no better than Evan Gattis at the plate. He walked about the same, he struck out the same, he had similar wRC+ numbers, similar RBI. With one key difference: Gattis has more home run power. Cespedes' ISO, which was equivalent to Gattis', was built from about twice as many doubles as Gattis achieved during that time, not home runs. Gattis, in shortened seasons, was on pace for between five to ten more home runs than Cespedes achieved. During those seasons, Cespedes' On Base Percentage (OBP) did not reach even .300. Since OBP is certainly a concern with this current iteration of the Astros, at 8th in the AL, Cespedes is more than a step in the wrong direction, he is a trip and a fall in the wrong direction.
Why do I bring up 2013-2014 and not his amazing 2015? Because there's a good chance that those seasons are indicative of the 30-year-old's true talent, or at least closer than 2015 was. Cespedes is not a good base stealer and doesn't boast elite contact. He's not the type of player generally expected to maintain BABIP's way above .300, the way Jose Altuve can. Last season, Cespedes' xBABIP (expected BABIP) was calculated to be 0.276, meaning he was one of the players in the majors most affected by good fortune on balls put in play. His 2015 .323 BABIP cannot be seen as sustainable, or even close to it. With regression, he is more likely the .266/.312/.473 hitter that Steamer expects him to be, or worse, he could regress as far as his .240/.294/.442 line in 2013. No thanks on either, not at that price tag.
No, if the Astros want to spend over $100 million on an outfielder this winter, they should spend it on a player who is younger, has more major league experience, is faster, has almost as much power but three times as much stolen base speed, and who projects for similar value offensively, but greater value defensively even at a more demanding position.
They should spend it on an extension for Carlos Gomez.