At face value, Boston Red Sox left fielder Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t jump out as a can’t-miss player. A career .262 hitter, the 28-year-old is hitting .256 with 19 home runs, 74 RBIs and a .768 OPS. Those are very good numbers, but not ones you’d break the bank for the way many have predicted the Sox will for Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton this winter. With that said, had the Red Sox had Cespedes — or an equivalent to his bat — in the lineup all season, we’re talking about the prospect of this team being the first Boston club to successfully defend a division title.
The knock on Cespedes is the same as the man he was traded for at the July 31 non-waiver trade-deadline, Jon Lester, in a deal between the Sox and the Oakland Athletics. Lester, though a bona fide top-of-the-rotation starter with a knack for coming up big in even bigger spots, was never Roger Clemens or Pedro Martinez — Red Sox aces of the past — over his eight years in Boston.
Likewise, Cespedes isn’t Manny Ramirez or Jim Rice, Hall of Fame-caliber hitters who have patrolled left field in the past for the Sox. But he has the ability to rise to the occasion in big moments while being a big-time bat in the heart of a good order.
But as he’s shown in the last few days, Cespedes doesn’t have to be Rice or Ramirez to make a major difference in the lineup. The Red Sox’ last two wins — their first string of back-to-back wins since July 20-21 — have been won on Cespedes home runs.
With the game scoreless in the eighth inning on Sunday in Anaheim, Cespedes broke the tie on a three-run shot off Los Angeles Angels reliever Joe Smith. He followed that up Monday night with another eighth-inning jack, this time with the Red Sox behind, 2-1, to the Cincinnati Reds.
That timely hitting is exactly what the Red Sox have missed in 2014. It’s that lack of timely hitting that has the Sox at the bottom of the American League in virtually every offensive category, an historically bad lineup judging from Red Sox standards.
If Cespedes isn’t what fans have been calling for Ben Cherington to go out and get — a middle-of-the-order righty bat to complement David Ortiz — he’s close. Before Cespedes was traded to Boston, there was no player (outside Ortiz) with that game-changing offensive ability. It’s what had Dustin Pedroia stuck hitting third, because there simply was no better option on the Sox roster.
Looking at Oakland’s offensive numbers over the past few seasons shows the impact Cespedes had on that team in his time there. Finishing in the bottom-five of the American League in runs scored in 2010-11, the A’s went out and signed Cespedes — an international free agent at the time — prior to the 2012 season. After they finished 8th in the AL in runs scored en route to the AL West title in 2012, Oakland was third in the AL in runs scored in 2013. In 2014, they lead the majors with 586 runs scored.
Cespedes may not be Manny, but he’s no slouch. He’s a more than serviceable third or fourth hitter who has the ability to change a game every time he comes to the plate — the type of bat pitchers fear.
And as Lester showed us, you don’t have to be a mortal-lock first-ballot Hall of Famer to change the complexion of a team.