One thing we know about John Coppolella: There’s no move he won’t consider. Latest reports hold that Coppolella’s Atlanta Braves have some interest — “some” being the key and loaded word — in Yoenis Cespedes, the free-agent outfielder.
I can see the Braves being intrigued that one of the three best position players of this FA class remains on the market. (The other two were Jason Heyward, who signed with the Cubs for $184 million over eight seasons, and Justin Upton, who hasn’t signed with anybody.) I can also see reasons why nothing will come of that interest.
1. Cespedes is not an up-and-comer. He’s 30. Over four big-league seasons, he has played for four teams. Over those four seasons, he has a career WAR value — using Baseball Reference’s formula — of 15.8, which makes him roughly a 4.0 WAR player per year. That’s not bad. Neither is it MVP stuff. (Heyward’s WAR value the past two seasons was 12.7.)
2. Cespedes is a big bat, which the Braves could use, but he’s a big bat coming off the two best months of his career, which means his price probably won’t drop enough for the local club’s liking. Over August and September, Cespedes hit 17 homers, drove in 44 runs and posted an OPS of .942. Here we cherry-pick the best numbers of Cespedes’ three previous seasons — an OPS of .861 in 2012, 26 homers in 2013 and 100 RBI’s in 2014. He was so good as a Met that some wondered if he should be considered for National League MVP even though he spent two-thirds of the season in the American League. But, having never been that good before, is he apt to be that good again?
3. Cespedes proved on Kansas City’s first at-bat of the World Series — he played Alcides Escobar’s line drive into an inside-the-park home run — that he’s not really a center fielder. The Braves already have a 30-year-old Cuban (Hector Olivera) slotted for left field and an $11-million-per-season man (Nick Markakis) in right. For the Braves to make a place for Cespedes, they’d have to trade one of the two. That’s not a Cespedes-deal-breaker in and of itself. (Olivera is unproven and Markakis is overpriced and, as mentioned, Coppolella lives to trade.) But that’s a lot of moving parts this late in the offseason. Pitchers and catchers report to Disney on Feb. 19.
4. Through all the Braves’ machinations under this general manager (and even before Coppolella was officially the GM), the watchword has been “value.” The Braves were willing to absorb $10 million in dead money for Bronson Arroyo — much of that soon offloaded to L.A. in the Olivera trade — because they valued the teenage pitcher Touki Toussaint at way more than that. Rarely does a team find value in a player of Cespedes’ profile. On the contrary, teams always overpay for a big hitter. Maybe the Braves could work a short-term deal for Cespedes that wouldn’t skew the team’s payroll for the next five years, but why would he do that? Say he takes a one-and-done contract? Wouldn’t he want the one to come with a contender?
5. Just me talking here: I’ve always liked Cespedes as a player. Billy Beane will argue forever that Oakland’s offense was already going south when he made the deal that sent Cespedes to the Red Sox for Jon Lester on July 31, 2014, but the cold truth is that the A’s with Cespedes had the best record in baseball and without him were reduced to a wild-card team that lasted one postseason game. He showed with the Mets, albeit in a two-month flurry, that he can make a difference, and not many players can. I’d love to see him try to make a difference as a Brave, but it’s not my money. (Though I am a Cobb County taxpayer, so I guess some of it will be.)