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February 14, 2012

The BP First Take

Tuesday, February 14

by Daniel Rathman

Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes was expected to get around $40 million in guaranteed money, most likely from the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, or Cubs. But the mystery team—this time the A’s—struck again. Yesterday, our own Kevin Goldstein and Yahoo’s Jeff Passan tried to make sense of it all.

Both explained why a small-market team that has spent the bulk of the offseason rebuilding and whittling down its payroll, that already has a glut of outfielders on its roster, and that faces an uncertain future in Oakland with no (public) assurance of a move to San Jose, might choose to dish out $36 million over four years to the 26-year-old Cespedes.

Goldstein examined the deal in the context of the $200 million free agent era. Passan suggested that the A’s are paying for an opportunity—namely, the opportunity to land a star-level talent on the free-agent market—that they otherwise would not have. Danny Knobler of CBS Sports concurred, adding that the reason the A’s must pay for opportunity is twofold, including not only their low budget, but also the unattractiveness of their home ballpark.

None of this would be problematic, though, if the A’s could develop their own hitters. The last dynamic, middle-of-the-order hitter to make his debut with Oakland was Carlos Gonzalez, but he was drafted and signed by the Diamondbacks, and cost the A’s Dan Haren, then one of the best young pitchers in baseball, on one of the team-friendliest contracts in the game. And CarGo did not exactly get going until after he was traded to Colorado.

The A’s have drafted and developed plenty of pitchers, from the big three in the early 2000s, to Trevor Cahill in 2009. But the last position player to come into professional baseball with the A’s, rise up their ladder, and blossom into a 20-plus home-run hitter at the big-league level was Nick Swisher. There have been other useful players—Kurt Suzuki and Cliff Pennington, to name a couple—but not a single star, either in the performance or marketability sense.

Michael Choice, Oakland’s first-round pick in 2010, might buck that trend, but for all his tools, he struck out 134 times in 542 plate appearances at High-A last season. Goldstein noted that Cespedes has even louder tools than Choice, with “plus-plus raw power [and] above-average speed,” and instantly became the likeliest player in the organization to develop into that elusive star hitter. 

Cespedes is raw for a player in his mid-20s, and the signing is risky, to be sure. But if the A’s are going to contend in 2014-2015, they need to start finding impact hitters. Cespedes was the only one willing to come now—and given Beane’s trouble mining hitting talent in recent drafts, he was wise to pull the trigger. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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<< Previous Article
Future Shock: Top 101 ... (02/13)
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