Why Boston slugger Cespedes’ story could be big this winter

Boston Red Sox's Yoenis Cespedes could be a free agent after 2015

Winslow Townson/AP

Our Ken Rosenthal wrote recently that Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes is one of the most intriguing trade candidates in baseball this offseason.

As Ken reported, part of the reason is that Cespedes will become a free agent after the 2015 season, and his team can’t extend him a qualifying offer. In other words, the Red Sox can’t recoup a draft pick if Cespedes leaves after the upcoming season.

Since this could become an important story during the winter, here’s a little more background on why that is the case.

Cespedes, 29, won’t fall under usual provisions of Article XX(B) in the Basic Agreement — the standard mechanism through which players earn free-agent rights once they have accumulated six years of major-league service time.

Cespedes won’t have six years of major-league service by the end of the upcoming season. He will have four, which usually only entitles a player to salary arbitration with his team. But Cespedes will become a free agent because his contract — a four-year, $36 million deal, originally signed with the Oakland A’s — stipulates that his team must non-tender him (rather than offer salary arbitration) after the four years are up.

Since teams can’t extend qualifying offers to players who are non-tendered — cut from the team, in effect —€” Cespedes won’t be eligible to receive one.

The A’s gave Cespedes the clause in question as a way of acknowledging that he had performed for eight seasons at the highest level of baseball in his native country, Cuba. Teams have done the same with the first MLB contracts for Japanese players; in fact, Mariners All-Star pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma will become a free agent after the 2015 season because of a similar provision. (Iwakuma also will have four years of service.)

While the non-tender clauses for Cespedes and Iwakuma are legal under baseball rules, the CBA prohibits adding contract language that would prevent teams from extending qualifying offers to those who file for free agency under Article XX(B). (Of course, players must spend the entire season with one team in order to receive a qualifying offer; Jon Lester wasn’t eligible this winter because he was traded from Boston to Oakland in July.)

Four players, all of whom came to MLB from the top Japanese pro league, are free agents this winter because of similar "non-tender" clauses in their entry contracts: Royals outfielder Norichika Aoki, Blue Jays infielder Munenori Kawasaki, Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa and A’s infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima.