Yoenis Cespedes provided brief thump and a big return for the Tigers
The Detroit Tigers, desperate for stability and strength in left field, traded for Yoenis Cespedes going into the 2015 season
Detroit had just been bounced in the 2014 playoffs by the Baltimore Orioles and GM Dave Dombrowski knew there were changes coming. Not only did he undoubtedly see the roster construction of the AL playoff teams like the Orioles and Royals, who featured more balance on the mound and more athleticism in the field; he also knew the club was likely to move on from Max Scherzer, who was due for a massive pay-day his first time on the open market.
About a week earlier, the Tigers acquired Shane Greene from the Yankees in a three-team trade with the Arizona in which the Diamondbacks would give up Didi Gregorius in exchange for Robbie Ray. In a domino effect, the Tigers would also acquire Alfredo Simon from the Reds, making one of their starters expendable. That starter would be Rick Porcello, who would go to the Red Sox in exchange for left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, relief arm Alex Wilson, and pitching prospect Gabe Speier.
On paper, the trade made sense for both clubs. Rick Porcello had two years of control remaining and was coming off his best season by WHIP (1.231) and second-best by FIP (3.67). With the recent trades made by Detroit, the Tigers had six pitchers for five spots–not including fringe lefties Kyle Ryan and Kyle Lobstein.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox had a logjam of outfield bats in the major leagues. Hanley Ramirez had already signed a 4 year, $88 million contract with the Red Sox by the time the trade was made. With young stud Xander Bogaerts handling shortstop for Boston, Ramirez was destined for the outfield. Adding to Ramirez was Shane Victorino, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Alejandro De Aza, and Rusney Castillo. Trading Cespedes for pitching would also fill the hole left when they sent Jon Lester away in the trade to acquire him in the first place.
Add to that the fact that Cespedes and the Red Sox were at odds to begin with and the trade makes even more sense. Cespedes, too, had two years of control, although his second year came in the form of a player option, which surely prevented this trade from being a simple one-for-one swap. There are often plenty of trades that seem fair and logical on paper that turn out to be shockingly one-sided in terms of the return received. This trade, however, ended up working out for both parties.
Porcello struggled in his first season in Boston–he would give up a full one hit per nine innings more in 2015 than the preceding year (although some of that would have to do with the contrast in home ballparks) and produce 0.5 bWAR contrasted against 3.8 bWAR in 2014. The 2016 campaign would be better, though, as Porcello would produce 4.7 bWAR and win the AL Cy Young Award
As an aside, Verlander produced 7.4 bWAR that season. No, I am not bitter. [ed. sure, Jacob]
Cespedes played well for the Tigers as well, slashing .293/.323/.506 for the club and hitting 18 home runs over 102 games. The trade was initially designed to give Detroit some clarity at the left field position, as the club had fielded nine different Opening Day left fielders in the nine seasons leading up to his acquisition.
Cespedes produced an impressive 4.2 bWAR before he was traded to the Mets. He would take off in New York as well, hitting another 17 home runs in nearly half as many games and led the team to a World Series appearance while wearing his unforgettable lime green arm sleeve.
An underrated afterthought in the trade was Alex Wilson, who had seen little MLB time in Boston before getting traded to Detroit. The Tigers would insert ‘Willy’ directly into the bullpen, where he gave the club a 183 ERA+ over 70 innings with the team in 2015. Wilson’s value is possibly understated even by advanced metrics, though, as the club had desperately needed a reliable relief arm. Underwhelming closer Joe Nathan did not make it out of April in 2015 before undergoing Tommy John Surgery and missing the season. Wilson would go on to pitch four seasons for Detroit in a Swiss Army Knife role and producing 5.4 bWAR in total during his time with the club.
Gabe Speier would get flipped by Detroit following the 2015 season. He was traded as part of a package sent to Atlanta in exchange for outfielder and former Tiger draft pick Cameron Maybin. Speier made his MLB debut as a 24 year-old last season with the Kansas City Royals, walking 6 over 7.1 innings and striking out 10.
As the Tigers made the decision to “retool” their club at the trade deadline in 2015, Cespedes found himself on the move as outlined above. In return, the Tigers would receive a pair of young pitching prospects from New York. The headliner was Michael Fulmer, who was a hard-throwing right-hander who was rated as the 18th-best prospect by MLB Pipeline in a loaded New York Mets system in 2014. Fulmer has produced 9.7 WAR over three seasons with the Tigers, but missed the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John Surgery.
Additionally, the Tigers received Luis Cessa, who would pitch just seven games for Triple-A Toledo before quickly getting traded away as part of a package for lefty reliever Justin Wilson.
As with David Price, Detroit did a nice job in receiving value from Cespedes while he was with the club while also getting talent back when they traded him away. Alex Wilson was a quiet asset to an ailing Tigers bullpen, providing a steady hand while serving in nearly every role a bullpen arm could possibly have. Even the add-on players received in the trades (Gabe Speier, Luis Cessa) were capitalized in order to receive additional talent later.
All in all, Detroit received over 15 bWAR from the Yoenis Cespedes trades while giving up just 7.3 bWAR. When considering the affordability and flexibility that Michael Fulmer and Alex Wilson both provided the club as well, this serves as another well-crafted pair of trades by the Tigers in which they are still reaping rewards from today.