Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics

There is no easy way to deal a player like Yoenis Cespedes. The Oakland A’s, notorious for their grueling efficiency, seem to churn through position players at a high rate (though this isn’t actually true.) They’re adept cheap pickups and willingness to platoon makes it hard to know the players without a program, as they say.

Even among those players, there is a certain facelessness associated with playing in the rundown Coliseum in front of a small clutch of rabid fans. The A’s don’t splash the cash on the free agent market so there isn’t a lot of name recognition among their key contributors, few players onto which the casual fan can latch.

Josh Donaldson is a terrific player hot off an amazing season, one that netted him the fourth-most MVP votes in the American League. But for all Donaldson’s exploits, he is not yet a star. Yoenis Cespedes isn’t quite as good as Donaldson but he is, in no uncertain terms, a star.

That he’s a capital-S Star makes it difficult to trade him on an optical level. Good thing the A’s don’t spend much time worrying about optics because that is exactly what they should do – trade Yoenis Cespedes.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle floated the idea that the A’s might entertain trade offers for Cespedes, the one player most clubs call after. She diffuses much of the trade speculation by astutely noting the A’s designs on contention in 2014. The defending AL West champs aren’t likely to ship out an elusive right-handed power bat as they defend their crown, are they?

Could they and should they are different things, and Billy Beane‘s A’s are the kind of club focused on doing the things they should rather than the avoiding tough decisions when confronted with an undesirable option.

The biggest question surrounding any Yoenis Cespedes trade is replacing his production. Though his numbers were down in 2013 compared to his bright rookie campaign, Cespedes still ranked 15th in the American League in home runs after playing just 135 games. Slusser links the A’s to free agent slugger Nelson Cruz, which makes sense in that it seems like the least likely signing in the history of free agency – just the way Billy Beane likes it!

The case for trading Cespedes is pretty simple – he isn’t going to get any better than he was in 2012, he is about to get more expensive and he has a slightly worrisome health record thus far in his career. These sounds like points against Cespedes but his skills are also in demand in baseball right now, meaning he could net Oakland a tidy package in return.

Just how good is Yoenis Cespedes? Everybody knows about his power from his in-game exploits to his home run derby-winning display this past July. He isn’t the most patient hitter, walking at about a league average rate. Contact is something of an issue, as his low average/high power output is something to monitor. Combine this skill set with a slightly-older player (Cespedes just completed his age-27 season) and he it feels like his chances of improving are limited.

Looking for comparable players isn’t always the best route to go as no two players age and improve at the same rate. But if we look around the game for players with similar traits to Cespedes (high power, middling walk rate, questionable contact skills through the same age period), we end up with an odd list.

Lots of right-handed power hitters like Mark Trumbo, Tony Batitsta, Kevin Mench, and Cody Ross. But how did those players age? If we look to older players (27-30), we see a shrinking list of sluggers. It’s almost as though these guys get figured out, in a way. Fewer names to inspire hope, though Yoenis Cespedes puts up these numbers in a significantly tougher offensive environment.

That he’s missed chunks of games on and off over the last two games shouldn’t deter teams from acquiring Cespedes, which is the real reason Oakland should explore a trade. He might not get better but he is still good and valuable. If another team is willing to make a nice offer, Oakland has to at least consider it, right?

The A’s have shown a keen ability to zig when the rest of the league zags. Believing their front office will do the right thing, be it keep Cespedes or deal him to address another need, seems like the ultimate appeal to authority. But haven’t they earned it? Isn’t dealing for a sought-after commodity like right-handed power for maximum payout the most A’s thing to do?

It wouldn’t be easy to trade a player like Cespedes, though his contract might make it requirement for Oakland. Due $10.5MM over the final two years of his amateur free agent contract, Cespedes then becomes arbitration eligible and could see his salary raise considerably, based on how much the arb process likes the kind of numbers (HR and RBI) the Cuban puts up.

Just because he might not improve much doesn’t mean he isn’t a good and valuable player to both the A’s playoff chances and as a trade chip. No team operating on as tight a budget as Oakland can afford to pass up an opportunity to keep costs down while improving the talent on-hand both for now and the future. Once the tall foreheads at Athletics HQ work out the internal calculus, don’t be surprised if their best course of action sees Yoenis Cespedes playing somewhere else in 2014.