The Oakland Athletics have let many a promising prospect go because they didn’t want to sign them to a large extension down the road. In a sense, they are the Tampa Bay Rays of the East; they build up prospects and once they develop into stars looking for new contracts, they deal them away to re-stock the farm system. The problem is that Billy Beane hasn’t been as successful executing that plan as Andrew Friedman has.
Thus, it was very surprising when it was announced that the Athletics were highest bidder for Cuban hitting prospect Yeonis Cespedes, signing the (supposedly) 26-year old to a four-year, $36 million deal. It’s a risky move and one that defies all of the logic Brad Pitt has been using for the past decade. Assuming Cespedes is really in the 26-28 year old range, Oakland will need him to come in and be effective right away to make this deal worth it. Unfortunately, it appears as if his experience against pitching in his home land isn’t enough to stick him in the majors right away, which means he may not be wearing an Athletics uniform until next season.
Spending big money on a prospect that is already past his developmental years and has had trouble dealing with breaking balls is uncharacteristic of Oakland and the move may end up hand cuffing the Athletics down the line. So why do I actually think this is worth it?
Because Cespedes may already be the best athlete playing an American sport behind LeBron James. Everyone should go and watch this promotional video of Cespedes doing various workouts. The video includes highlights of Cespedes hitting homeruns and catching fly balls behind his back but also film of him training. He does a 45 inch box jump, runs a 6.3 60 yard dash, 1,300 pound leg presses (with people sitting on top of the weights), 4.3 second T drills, 510 pound hack squats, 350 pound bench presses. Now I’m not an expert but the stuff he does in this video seems to defy logic.
Cespedes looks like a stronger, more in shape Nelson Cruz, which means he probably won’t pull his hamstring every fortnight. His physique is incredible. He just might be the strongest player in league once he makes it to the majors.
But how does any of this matter if he can’t hit a breaking ball? That’s a fair question. If Cespedes continues to be baffled by breaking balls, he may never be able to become a star. That said, can you name five players in baseball that demand that you come and see them in person? Can you name three? Outside of pitchers who have a good chance at a no-hitter every time they take the mound (Justin Verlander), there aren’t many must see players in the baseball anymore.
Cespedes has that potential, and if you’ve seen an A’s game at The Coliseum, you know they desperately need folks at the ball park. His combination of raw power, speed, flash, explosiveness and cockiness is the ultimate package, one that fans would definitely want to see in person. So even if he turns out to be a decent hitter for average, as long as he brings all of his other attributes to the majors, he can be an impact player that draws a lot of attention.
Because he’s not an up-and-coming superstar, Oakland has to hope Cespedes is ready to be that impact player by next season to prove they made a smart investment. The American League West is a two-team battle over the next two seasons (Rangers and Angels) but when guys like Albert Pujols, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli and Josh Hamilton inevitably start to decline, perhaps it would be reasonable to expect Oakland to enter contention then. The A’s did get two stud pitching prospects in return for Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill this off-season (Jarrod Parker and A.J. Cole) and if they can come up in a David Price/Matt Moore kind of way and Cespedes turns out to be a star, this isn’t such a bad gamble for Oakland.
I wonder what Jonah Hill thinks of the move.
Photo Credit: Christophe Elise/Icon SMI