Oakland A’s: How Valuable is Yoenis Cespedes?

Oakland A's NewsBilly Beane and the Oakland Athletics have long been known for acquiring undervalued players. Some recent examples of this are Chris Young (11.7 WAR, 103 OPS+ from 2010-12), John Jaso (6.1 WAR, 115 OPS+ from 2010-12), and Brandon Moss (1.9 WAR, 160 OPS+ in 2012).

They’re also equally known for selling high on replaceable assets, like, for instance, trading Andrew Bailey (7.04 ERA, 63 ERA+ in 2012) for Josh Reddick (4.5 WAR, 110 OPS+ in 2012), Miles Head (.333/.391/.577/.968 line at Advanced-A/Double-A), and Raul Alcantara (wasn’t good in 2012, but who cares).

But when the A’s signed Cuban-import Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36MM deal last off-season, it was surprising. It was surprising because the signing had nothing to do with the usual peripheral analysis, and market inefficiency recognition. No, the A’s signing Cespesdes was a pure scouting move–something the A’s rarely tap into. And it paid off, big time.

In 540 PA’s, the 26 year-old posted a .292/.356/.505 line, 23 HR, 82 RBI, 70 R, and 16 SB. Despite possessing a canon arm, he didn’t fair particularly well in either fielding metric (-1.1 dWAR, -12.9 UZR/150). Yet, as bad as Cespedes was in the field, his hitting-heavy skill set, fronted by a 137 OPS+ and 4.2 oWAR, more than compensated for it.

Cespedes, who turned 27 year-old in October, will likely be a big source of offense for the A’s for at least the next three seasons. It’s obvious the Athletics didn’t view Cespedes as a prospect in need of seasoning, but rather, an impact, “right now” bat. Essentially, the frugal organization owns a maturing power hitter in his age 27 through 29 seasons.

Assuming Cespedes will be healthy in 2013, Bill James projects a .297/.364/.515 line with 28 HR, 98 RBI, 84 R, and 18 SB in 622 PA’s. Given his lack of pre-2012 Major League experience, it’s a little difficult to generate an “accurate” three-year prediction for the Cuban, but it’s still possible to rough-out the type of player who he could, conservatively, be.

First, there are a couple of important items to note. One must assume that 1.0 WAR is equivalent to $5MM in 2012, with annual increases of 5% each season to account for inflation. In addition, per Bill Petti’s article on aging players, the chart also assumes an annual 0.5 WAR decline from ages 28-32 (or in the case of Cespedes, ages 28-31).

Below is a chart that outlines Cespedes through his existing contract:
chartTaking inflation into consideration, Cespedes could be worth at least 13.6 WAR or $78MM over the course of his four-year contract. The projection is pretty conservative, as it is within the realm of possibility that Cespedes either consistently posts a 3.5-4.0 WAR from 2013 to 2015, or turns into an elite hitter (between 5.0-6.0 WAR).

Barring an injury, Yoenis Cespedes could mirror the production the Los Angeles Angels will get from Josh Hamilton (3.5 WAR in 2011, 3.4 WAR in 2012), for around the same amount of money the Arizona Diamondbacks just signed Cody Ross to.

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