As a lifelong Raider fan, I’m used to the omnipresent speculation which presents itself whenever a player with a checkered past becomes available. No matter what the crime or transgression which was committed by the athlete, inevitably all media outlets would report that “Oakland is one possible destination.”
Normally the baseball team in the same town has been a dumping ground for has-beens and the invalid. Former General Manager Sandy Alderson salivated over the washed-up and the untalented, and his protégé Billy Beane has followed suit. I could do an entire column about the lousy vets who have finished out their careers in the Green & Gold, but I will encapsulate the entire swath of scrubs acquired by the last two GM’s with one guy: Johnnie LeMaster. Alderson actually coerced LeMaster out of retirement so he could hit precisely .083 for the A’s in 1987. So all roads lead to Coliseum at some point. But there is a new trend in the media concerning the A’s, and they couldn’t be more wrong.
Three years ago this week, Yoenis Cespedes agreed to a four-year, $36 million deal to join the A’s. Cespedes had defected from Cuba to the Dominican Republic the previous summer and was able to bypass the draft and become a free agent. He was a star in his native land, with a pedigree of an Olympian for a mother and a Cuban League catcher for a father. He was considered a five-tool stud, and obviously too rich for Oakland’s blood. Media outlets seemed assured that if he didn’t opt for the Yankees, he would surely join the Marlins because of the Cuban influence in Miami. As it turned out, Cespedes is a rather quiet guy who shunned the spotlight and chose a place far, far away from such attention: Oakland. It was a shocker. I know I was stunned yet extremely happy when I heard the news of this transaction. I mean, the baseball world knew Beane was in a full rebuild, as he had already flogged off three All-Star pitchers, all of whom were still in their 20’s. This was a team that could possibly lose 100 games, yet they paid for Cespedes and he said yes. Bizarre, but fantastic.
We all know the rest for Cespedes, from playoffs to back-to-back Home Run Derby titles to amazing left field assists to being dealt to Boston. That trade, whether you directly blame it or not, was the beginning of a slippery slope which the A’s slid down with historic futility. Were it not for a shutout pitched by Sonny Gray on the season’s last day, the A’s would have missed the postseason altogether. But beyond that, because of the piece of whimsy Beane crafted in signing Cespedes, the A’s are now linked to EVERY player coming out of Cuba, and there are a lot of them. The thing is, it was a one-and-done type of purchase. I cannot ever see Beane winning any sort of bidding war, and perhaps not even trying to win one, over a Cuban national again. Yet every media outlet in the land will always (always!) mention Oakland as a potential landing spot for Cuban players – at least in the beginning. Whether its Rusney Castillo, Yoan Moncada, Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Odrisamer Despaigne, Hector Olivera, Yasmany Tomas, or any other Cuban who has defected since Cespedes signed with the A’s, they will be rumored to be in Oakland’s crosshairs.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame the press for thinking that history could repeat itself, just as the Raiders did sign a ne’er-do-well now and then. But it’s not going to happen. Even before Cespedes had laced up a white spike, we knew he’d never last the entire four years of his deal, despite the sickening timing of the Lester trade. The Cespedes signing was a huge happening, much more than passing over Todd Helton to draft Ariel Prieto. It’s the dawn of a new age in baseball, especially with Obama’s softening stance on Castro’s island. The floodgates are opening. Cuba is now the Nordstrom for baseball players, and the A’s are used to buying guys from Ross. As fun as it was for two and a half years with Cespy, I don’t think we’ll be visiting Brass Plum again anytime soon.