This offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays might want to pursue Xavier Cedeno, a lefty reliever that is looking to re-establish himself
Xavier Cedeno had a stellar 2017 season with the Blue Jays, after joining the team in an early season trade. Over 55.1 innings, Cedeno was worth 1.3 wins above replacement (WAR)—posting a 2.64 FIP, 27.3% strikeout rate and 6.7% walk rate. He only got better in the postseason, helping the team to a World Series Championship.
Well, I guess that’s only half true. It did happen, but on my PS4. His virtual performance came to mind when I heard that he was non-tendered by the Tampa Bay Rays last Friday. He’s a good pitcher—The Show rates him 83 overall and Andrew Hendriks of Canadian Baseball Network rates him highly too—and good pitchers tend not to be non-tendered.
Then why was he non-tendered?
It seems that the key factors behind his non-tender were a sub-par and injury-plagued 2017 season, as well as the Rays’ lefty reliever depth. He suffered an injury to his left forearm in April and was only able to get into two more games (in September). When he pitched, the results were quite bad: he could only get nine outs against the 21 batters he faced. He gave up four walks, three homers and got zero strikeouts. He produced -0.9 fWAR (-0.6 bWAR) in only three innings pitched.
Moreover, he had two lefties ahead of him on the MLB roster and a couple more right behind him in the Rays system. This point is important because it provides a reason for his non-tender beyond “the Rays think he’s broken and/or bad now”.
This sounds worrisome, what makes him a promising signing?
I tend to put more weight on large, somewhat recent samples than I do on tiny, more recent samples. And his large, somewhat recent sample suggests that Cedeno is in that tier of lefty reliever right behind the very best.
Cedeno’s a very well-balanced reliever, especially for a lefty. Over the 2015-16 seasons, he produced better-than-average strikeout and walk rates, while also giving up weaker than average contact. That diversified performance resulted in a FIP and an xwOBA that were each in the top ten among lefty relievers.
His performance was also diversified in terms of his success against lefties and righties—he’s no LOOGY. Against both types of hitter, Cedeno was able to maintain average or better strikeout and walk rates, while generating relatively weak contact. That makes him the kind of lefty that could face multiple batters per appearance, something he did in 96 of his 120 appearances in 2015-16.
His 2015-16 statistics are comparable to Brett Cecil‘s, the Jays’ best lefty reliever of the 2010s. Cecil has the clear edge when it comes to strikeouts and walks, but Cedeno generates much weaker contact. As a result, the two were roughly equals in terms of FIP, xBA and xwOBA.
I’m sold! Now, what kind of contract seems realistic for Cedeno?
Well, he earned $1.3 million last year after avoiding arbitration with the Rays. But now he’s on the open market, so a raise seems probable. He produced 1.4 fWAR (1.9 bWAR) during his strong 2015 and 2016 seasons, which (at the going rate of $9 million per WAR) equates to an annual salary of $6.3 million ($8.6 million).
His agent has said that he is “generating a lot of interest from other clubs”, but of course he’d say that. I’m sure plenty are asking about him, given his solid and fairly recent track record, but his 2017 season will surely limit how much money and term teams will be willing to offer him. From the Blue Jays’ perspective, something similar to the one-year, $3 million deals they gave to Joe Smith and J.P. Howell would be a great bit of business.
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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.