Billy Beane

Oakland A’s surprise, sign Yoenis Cespedes

By Guest Contributor Scott Willis

In the bidding for Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes it was supposed to be the big money, big market teams that would take advantage of the last year of uncapped international free agent spending to make one last big splash. Instead it was the A’s who were a huge surprise winner of the bidding and this became another instance of the “mystery” team coming out of nowhere and making a big move.

The exact breakdown of the contract isn’t available at the moment, but Susan Slusser of the Chronicle has reported that the 4-year deal is worth $36 million total, which gives the deal a $9 million average annual value before Cespedes is eligible for Free Agency.

What exactly did the A’s get in Cespedes?

Scouting reports are a bit mixed with some higher on him than others, but overall he is considered among the top 25 prospects in baseball (if a 26-year-old can still considered a prospect). Here are a few bits from around the internet on scouting the Cuban:

John Sickels of minor league ball:

He’s a 26-year-old right-handed hitter and thrower, born October 10, 1985, listed at 5-11, 215 pounds. He’s rated as a complete talent: power, speed, glove: he has it all, at least in raw form. He has been a Serie Nacional star in Cuba for the last eight seasons, and owns the single-season home run record. Scouts on the international circuit have been following him for years, so he’s not an unknown quantity who came out of nowhere.

Power is his best hitting attribute: rated 70 on the 20/80 scouting scale by most who have seen him in person. Reports on his pure hitting skills are a bit more mixed, and not everyone is sure how he’ll handle the strike zone against major league pitching, or what his batting average and OBP will look like. He is an excellent overall athlete, with the speed for center field and a strong throwing arm.

Keith Law of ESPN (insider required):

Just grading out Cespedes on tools, he looks like a monster. His chiseled body wouldn’t look out of place in an NFL backfield, but he isn’t so jacked up that he’s unable to move well. He’ll show plus-plus raw power, and on a straight track, he’s about a 65 runner (on the 20-80 scouting scale), although it’ll play below that when running the bases. He’s probably too big for center but should have plus range in right and has plenty of arm for it. His bat path isn’t great, but he does have tremendous bat speed with a pull-oriented approach that, when he squares something up, produces enormous power. It’s not hard to see him hitting 30 homers in the majors if he can hit enough to get to that power.

Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required):

Scouts don’t regard Cespedes as a pure hitter who will contend for a batting title; it’s his power that will carry him. Several scouts said Cespedes has 70 raw power on the 20-80 scouting scale, with the potential to hit 25-30 home runs in the major leagues…

While some scouts think he has the raw power and speed to be a 30/30 player in the big leagues, others think that’s too aggressive…

Cespedes is a center fielder and has the speed to play there right now. He has a thicker, more muscular frame than most center fielders, and while one scout said he thought Cespedes would profile better as a right fielder from the start, most scouts have said he should start out in center field. Reviews of his instincts and reads off the bat vary. Some scouts believe he reads the ball off the bat well, others say his route running needs work, while others say they just don’t have a great handle on his defensive instincts to speak confidently about them…

Cespedes has a 60 arm, which would be a weapon in center field and plenty to play right field if he loses a step or for a team that wants to sign him but already has a plus defensive center fielder.

From the looks of the scouting reports (also take a look at his showcase video for some impressive feats of athleticism) the A’s have signed a talented athlete with plus potential in all 5 tools, but he’s still raw and there are questions on how it will translate from Cuba to the Major Leagues.

Is Cespedes worth it?

This is the big question. There is the upside of a perennial All-Star who plays above average defense while hitting 25-30 home runs a year worth potentially 4+ WAR (wins above replacement) a season. The more conservative estimate puts him as an average defender worth 10 to 15 runs above average, which would put him at about 2 WAR. This conservative estimate is right in line with what Clay Davenport’s translation of Cespedes’ Cuban stats look like.

The downside (baring an injury) is that he is a 4th or 5th outfielder who shows flashes of talent, yet just can’t make the necessary adjustments to Major League pitching to be consistently effective.

With what the A’s paid Cespedes the break-even point in earning his contract is approximately 7 WAR over 4 years, which isn’t too high of a hurdle to overcome and leaves the A’s in a nice place to benefit from his peak seasons and maximize his value. With the other trades that the team has made already this off-season there is enough depth, so if Cespedes needs to spend a few months in Triple-A the A’s shouldn’t be hurt too badly, and if he is ready to go after spring training he can start earning his big pay day.

If 2014 is the target for when the A’s want to contend again, getting Cespedes gives them a potential middle-of-the-order hitter who should be in his prime years to help score some runs for all of the pitching prospects in the A’s system. At the absolute worst, he should put on some absolutely fabulous batting practice sessions and gives A’s fans a reason to come to the Coliseum.

I’m Scott Willis you can catch my Giants writing at Crazy Crabbers and follow me on twitter @BAStatsGuy and @CrazyCrabbers.


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