The Oakland Athletics made a significant splash into the free agent market today, with the signing of 26-year old Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a 4-year, $36 million deal.
Cespedes is expected to be the Athletics starting right fielder come March 28th when they open the 2012 season in Japan, against the Seattle Mariners.
In 2010-11, Cespedes batted .333 with 33 home runs and 99 RBI in 90 games while playing in the Cuban National Series with the Granma Stallions. In the summer of 2011, Cespedes defected to the Dominican Republic where he established residency in order to be granted free agency by Major League Baseball (MLB).
With the signing Cespedes instantly becomes the highest-paid player on the Athletics roster and the highest paid Cuban defector in league history topping the Cincinnati Reds 2010 signing of LHP Aroldis Chapman to a 6-year, $30.5 million deal.
I have to give Oakland credit for seemingly coming out of nowhere and taking a gamble on Cespedes. Why is it a gamble you ask? To put it simply $36 million is a high price for Oakland to pay for a player who has never played a game in MLB. Some scouts have described Cespedes as a five-tool center fielder although others think his best fit is ultimately in right field. There is no question that Cespedes is a freakish athlete, what I question is his mental makeup and ability to make the necessary adjustments both on-field and off that come with facing a higher level of competition, while being in a new country. It took time for former Cuban defector Kendrys Morales and even Chapman to become comfortable playing in the United States (US) as they both spent time in the minor leagues. The best comparison that I can make to Cespedes is that of Alexei Ramirez who came to the US at the age of 26 after signing a four-year contract with the Chicago White Sox in 2007. Ramirez has been a solid MLB player who immediately took over as the everyday second baseman, now shortstop for the White Sox. How long the adjustment period will be for Cespedes is unknown.
Can he live up to all the hype? When taking about prospects and trying to project players it is only natural that fans, members of the media, and even teams themselves get excited about what could be, often finding that the player does not reach his full potential. It is easy to get caught up in the moment; however, it is a trap that personally I don’t want to fall into. Cespedes has the potential to be the best Cuban player of his generation, if he can reach that potential is the real question. Only time will tell what kind of impact Cespedes will have on the Athletics and MLB.
I like the move from Oakland’s perspective because it shows that the Athletics are intent on remaining competitive. If there is one thing we have come to expect from Billy Beane over the years, it is the fact he is not afraid to make moves to ultimately improve his ball club, even taking on a certain level of risk in the process.
For more on the Athletics, check out Swingin’ A’s.