Cuban OF Yoenis Cespedes has obtained residency in the Dominican Republic, been approved by Major League Baseball, and is waiting to be approved to work in the States by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). After visiting the Miami Marlins earlier this week, ESPN’s Jayson Stark reported yesterday that Cespedes could be heading back to the Dominican.
On Tuesday, MASN’s Roch Kubatko reported that Fred Ferreira, the Orioles Director of International Recruiting, was scheduled to go back to the Dominican in about 10 days to again meet with Cespedes, and to scout another prized Cuban OF – Jorge Soler. Once that OFAC approval comes, Cespedes will be free to formally sign a contract. It is believed that the Marlins presented a contract to Cespedes, while he was in Miami. Will Cespedes still be available when Ferreira gets back to the Dominican?
To me, signing Cespedes should be the current top priority for the Orioles organization.
Of course doing so comes with plenty of risk. The numbers that Cespedes put up last year in the Cuban League (.333/.424/.667, 33 hr’s, 99 rbi, 90 games) are impressive for any league, but we have to be cognizant about the level of competition. Most estimates I see, point to the Cuban League being the equivalent of AA baseball at best. All agree the level of play is far lower than Nippon Professional Baseball (the Japanese Leagues, which is probably AAAA – below MLB, above AAA). That difference in level of play makes it much more difficult to approximate the production you would be receiving. This leaves you reliant on the Scouts who have seen him play directly.
Thankfully, there are plenty of people who have seen Cespedes up-close. The Orioles themselves (headed by Showalter, and Ferreira) saw him in December. After their visit, we consistently heard remarks that the O’s liked what they saw. Other evaluators share similar positive sentiments. Jim Callis, from Baseball America, stated (http://www.baseballamerica.com/today/prospects/ask-ba/2012/2612878.html) that if Cespedes were in their Top 100 list, he would fall within the 7-15 range of all Prospects. Kevin Goldstein from Baseball Prospectus and ESPN asked (http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/hotstove11/story?id=7526784&_slug_=yoenis-cespedes-compared-colby-rasmus-adam-jones-others-big-league-execs-mlb&action=login&appRedirect=http%3a%2f%2finsider.espn.go.com%2fmlb%2fhotstove11%2fstory%3fid%3d7526784%26_slug_%3dyoenis-cespedes-compared-colby-rasmus-adam-jones-others-big-league-execs-mlb) ‘Executives with extensive International Experience and in-person looks at Cespedes to compare the Cuban OF with ultra-toolsy 20 something MLB OF’s (Colby Rasmus, BJ Upton, Drew Stubbs, Chris Young, and Adam Jones). The only one of those five that the Executives would take over Cespedes, was Jones.
Clay Davenport from Baseball Prospectus projects Cespedes as having 25 homer power, a .250 average, and poor K/BB ratios (http://claydavenport.com/?p=97). Davenport’s excellent work says the player Cespedes most closely resembles is Jones. Bradley Woodrum from FanGraphs (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/is-yoenis-cespedes-a-good-fit-for-the-chicago-cubs/) estimated Cespedes could be a 2.5 to 3.5 win player. According to FanGraphs, Jones’ 2011 WAR was 2.9, representing $13M in value.
We understand the positives and negatives about Jones as a player. His overall game has enough value, that I’d gladly take a clone of him for 6 yrs and $60M. If the Orioles obtained Cespedes, he might require some additional time in the Minors. If Cespedes needed 3 months at AAA Norfolk, does that really matter when you are signing the guy for 6 years? If he was obtained, and ready to start the year with the O’s, he could take over LF, forcing Reimold to DH. If Baltimore later decided to trade Jones, you would have an internal option existing for CF.
We have asked several analysts their thoughts on if the O’s should pursue Cespedes:
Baltimore Sports and Life: “The O’s sent a contingent (including Showalter, and Ferreira) to the Dominican recently to scout Yoenis Cespedes. It appears that Baltimore would have to pay an ‘O’s tax’ to obtain the 26 yr old OF. Would you advocate Baltimore being willing to offer 6 years $60M for Cespedes. Would you think that contract would be what it would take for the O’s to sign him?”
DJ Short / NBC Sports Hardball Talk: “Most seem to believe it will take more than $50 million to sign Cespedes. I have never seen him play, so I can’t say with absolute certainty whether he’s worth that sort of investment, but I think the Orioles should be targeting younger players. 19-year-old Jorge Soler might be a better fit.”
David Schoenfield / ESPN: “If you’re keeping Adam Jones, I don’t think you pay that kind of money for Cespedes, who may not hit quite enough to be an elite corner outfielder.”
Jason Parks / Baseball Prospectus: “The O’s only have a few Latin American players on the 40-man roster, so it seems unlikely that Cespedes would consider signing with a team where his acclimation to professional ball would be made even harder by the lack of LA players in the clubhouse and on the field. It brings up a much larger question, in my opinion: Why don’t the O’s have Latin American talent on the roster?”
Marc Normandin / SB Nation: “Absolutely. They lack this kind of potential impact player in the upper levels of the system right now, and $60 million isn’t that much money for someone who is a free agent. Cespedes doesn’t have to be that great to be worth around $10 million per year, and if he’s as good as advertised, the Orioles have themselves a highly-productive bargain.”
What I like about the idea of signing Cespedes, is that it potentially helps you now, and later. You can argue how much it matters about improving now, but the Orioles are saying they want to be over .500 this year. For the O’s to be anywhere around .500 this year, the returning talent has to improve, and Chen and Wada in-particular have to help. You still need more talent though, and it seems clear that Cespedes would add to the roster. For the large parts of the fan-base who are not satisfied by the on-field additions this Winter, the addition of Cespedes would help address their concerns. More importantly, you would be adding another piece you could build around long-term.
You can discuss the merits of signing Cespedes at the BSL Message Board: http://baltimoresportsandlife.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=62