Despite rumours over the weekend that the Miami Marlins had offered Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes a $40 million contract, Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that the Oakland Athletics have signed the international free agent. According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the terms of the deal are for four years and $36 million. Team control will not extend beyond the terms of the deal, meaning that Cespedes will become a free agent again ahead of the 2016 season.
Many believe that the 26 year old will require seasoning in Triple A before he’s able to be anything resembling a force at the Major League level. This is despite the raw talent, impressive athleticism and, if nothing else, sense of showmanship, he displayed in his very popular promotional video.
It’s not just the video either. Several scouts and executives were impressed with what they saw from Cespedes in his workouts and brief time in the Dominican League. The praise also extended into the realm of prospect pundits. Immediately following news of the signing Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus claimed that Cespedes would have ranked 20th on his list of the top 101 MLB prospects.
However, given his age, the terms of the contract and the rarity with which the Athletics splash big money on a player, the risk in signing Cespedes is a curious one for Oakland. As we all remember, the balance of power in the AL West was thrown further out of whack this off season with the Los Angeles Angels signing both highly regarded free agents Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. The two-time AL Champion Texas Rangers also improved their squad with the acquisition of Japanese phenom Yu Darvish to go along with the further strengthening of the team’s bullpen. Making matters more confusing is that the A’s traded away two starters and their closer, all with multiple years of team control, for prospects that are unlikely to reach their peak during Cespedes’ scheduled tenure in Oakland.
As someone who has never played professional baseball in North America, it’s difficult to project what type of value the Athletics can expect from Cespedes, but given the terms of his contract, he can perform as a league average player over the next four years and the free agent contract will have been worthwhile for the team. That may sound like modest expectations for such a well known prospect, but the signing surpasses the record for Cuban born players which was previously held by the Cincinnati Reds and Aroldis Chapman who agreed to a $30.25 million contract over six years in the summer of 2010.
It’s also worth mentioning that Cespedes and his team of representatives were seeking either a ten year deal or a four year deal that would lead into free agency. Rumours suggest that no team was interested in dealing with the 26 year old under those terms, preferring a six year contract. That is, until the A’s made their offer.
Personally, I can’t get past his age and the level at which Cespedes has played at during key developmental years. If he is to succeed in becoming an elite performer at the Major League level, something that Oakland undoubtedly hopes, it will be unlike any other player that came before him. And generally speaking, when it comes to baseball or any other facet of life, if something has never happened before, it’s unlikey, though not impossible, that it will happen at all.
Whether signing Cespedes works out or not, Atheltics GM Billy Beane is due a large amount of praise for taking care of the team’s biggest hole this off season.
The Athletics’ outfield now boasts up to seven Major League ready or close to ready players: Cespedes, Collin Cowgil, Coco Crisp, Jonny Gomes, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith and Michael Taylor.