Cespedes signing logical in Oakland's picture
Deal could be a bargain in light of what premium talent costs
Much of what Billy Beane does is seen through the refracted light of "Moneyball," so when the A's general manager traded Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey, then signed Yoenis Cespedes, there were countless references to attending this year's Oscars and all that the images of Michael Lewis and Brad Pitt have created.
This week will be Billy being Billy -- nothing more, nothing less. This week he'll drive with his dog, Taggart, to Phoenix for Spring Training. Some of us know one doesn't force one's dog to fly.
On the surface, the trades and the signing of the Cuban refugee seemed contrary. They are not, of course. They begin in the reality that is being a small-market team, which the Athletics will be until, and if, they are allowed to move to San Jose. One of the problems for the Oaklands and Pittsburghs of the world is that beginning this season, it will be more difficult to get premium-talent players without losing 90 games and getting high Draft picks in return. The Pirates, for instance, have invested heavily in high-ceiling draftees like Jameson Taillon, Josh Bell and Stetson Allie, players whose talents they'd be hard-pressed to afford if they were international free agents under the new rules that are coming soon.
The Athletics thoroughly scouted Cespedes. Risk? "Of course there's risk," says Beane. But their consensus is that when he arrives in Oakland, be it April or June, he will hit somewhere in the .250-.260 range with power and be an aggressive, above-average defender in the middle of the field, in center. What does $9 million buy the Athletics on the free-agent market in terms of a 26-year-old who can play in the middle of the field and offers power?
This was one of Oakland's reports on Cespedes: "Built like an explosive and physical NFL running back. Arrogant defender with closing speed. Throws plenty. Real speed offensively. Solid hitter who will have to adjust to the big league breaking ball, to harness strikeouts. Cares about his craft. Not flamboyant off the field. Has a lot of pride."
This didn't come from "sun-deprived nerds," as one traditional baseball writer refers to any executive from the Moneyball Era, with all their printouts. This came from scouting and background work and days and hours spent at ballparks in the Dominican Republic.
The signing makes sense because if Cespedes hits .250 with power and good defense in the second half of 2012, he will be a valuable commodity. Then, if he makes adjustments, the A's will have him for his prime years at ages 27, 28 and 29. Remember, this is a one-year, one-year-only sale on Cespedes and Jorge Soler, because after this season, clubs will be capped on what they can spend internationally. So Beane didn't need to listen to Dylan's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" because as soon as Cespedes did so, Billy jumped.
It makes sense because right-handed power is such a scarcity, which is why the Jesus Montero deal made sense for Seattle even if he never catches 100 games in a season. Where else were they going to get a young middle-of-the-order right-handed bat and have Brian Cashman admit, "I took the risk in this trade?"
Now Oakland soon could have Cespedes and Michael Choice in the outfield -- two right-handed power hitters. They hope that Derek Norris, the catcher they acquired from the Nationals in the Gonzalez trade, provides them an above-average bat behind the plate.
Oakland has used Gonzalez and Cahill to get three big-time arms in Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock and A.J. Cole, with last year's first-round Draft pick, Sonny Gray, also on board. Norris has promise. Grant Green, the 2009 first-rounder, will stay in center field for the time being as he progresses through the system.
"Essentially we've gone from being a bottom-10 system to a top-10 system," says Beane. Theoretically that could bode well for the San Jose opener, if it ever happens.
Beane doesn't know what Cespedes will turn out to be. Wily Mo Pena? Adam Jones? Someone somewhere in-between Jones and Matt Kemp? At ages 27-29, $9 million seems a bargain, especially when the A's will be stuck at The Coliseum for at least the next three seasons.
Cespedes is an investment that for the Oakland Athletics makes sense. He will not be walking down the red carpet in a couple of months. He will be trying to hit breaking balls.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.