One of the great unknowns on the free-agent market is Yoenis Cespedes, a five-tool talent that has scouts drooling, and who could be the next Matt Kemp or Wily Mo Pena.
Yoenis Cespedes was an Internet thing not that long ago. He was the keyboard cat of international free agents. Every team across the land wanted Yoenis, most of them even before they considered the goldmine of limerick possibilities. Now that the furor has died down a bit, what sort of interest is he going to draw?
He's a center fielder, and supposedly a good one according to Tigers vice president and director of amateur scouting David Chadd:
"Combination of power and speed," Chadd said Sunday, repeating the standard scouting report on Cespedes, who is viewed as having a glove, arm, and likely batting average that would also be elite. "A five-tool player."
The Tigers are one of the teams in on him, as are the Marlins. And Cubs. And Nationals. Possibly the Orioles. The Rays have called. The Phillies are worried that the won't have a center fielder locked down for 2015, so they're probably interested. Everybody loves Yoenis. He's not going to come on a two-year, $8 million deal so everyone can get used to each other.
The previous contract given to a hype-worthy player from Cuba was Aroldis Chapman, who signed a $30.25 million, six-year deal. Cespedes is hoping to blow past that, possibly into the $60 million range. That's a lot for a player who hasn't hit against major-league pitching, even if he did hit .333/.424/.667 with 33 homers in 90 games in the Cuban National League last year. Those are gaudy numbers, but it's worth noting that the league had a guy who hit .453/.597/.986, so it's possible that the stats are just a wee bit difficult to evaluate.
But say Cespedes gets an 8-year, $60-million deal. Evan Longoria is locked up for the next five seasons for a combined $40 million, and that's widely considered to be the most team-friendly contract in baseball. Now imagine if he came to the Rays and asked to extend it by three years and $6.6 million per year. Andrew Friedman would break a thumb while frantically looking for a pen. If Cespedes turns out to be a star, his contract will be one of the best in the game.
Now imagine if instead of signing a three-year, $20 million contract, Kaz Matsui signed for eight years. Everyone loved Matsui's tools, and his stats were superlative for a middle infielder, even after accounting for the small Japanese ballparks and the quality of competition. But eight years would have been up after last season. That would have been a long, long time and a ton of money to commit to what turned out to be a pleasantly harmless backup utility infielder. I daresay he would not have been popular in New York right about now.
So he's either going to be as good as Evan Longoria or as disappointing as Kaz Matsui. You read it here first.
There are enough teams in on Cespedes, though, that he could win the Jayson Werth WTF Contract of the Year. Because if a team really wants him in the worst way, they'll have to buy him away from the Marlins. The Marlins play in Miami, a place where Cespedes becomes just about the most marketable player on the team. It's going to be really hard for another team to overcome that -- the Marlins can instantly think about the money they'll make back from Cespedes in the first year, whereas other teams will have to be far more cautious.
The Marlins are acting like a dot-com company in 1998, waving money at every prospective employee that ambles down the road. They're looking to sign a programmer or seven for six figures and stock options. And you're telling me that they aren't going to be in on the Cuban superstar who happens to play a position where they could use some help? It's not like he's a shortstop who'd force a grumpy Hanley Ramirez to third base. It's the perfect fit.
The only obstacle I see for the Marlins is that the Washington Nationals are interested in Cespedes, and they were the team that awarded the Jayson Werth WTF Contract of 2010/2011. They're a little unpredictable -- the guy in the back of the auction with a nervous tic and an eyepatch. They're also pretty well set up at a few several positions, except for … wait for it … center field. Their options other than Cespedes are Coco Crisp, more Rick Ankiel, maybe Cody Ross, or putting a call in to Marquis Grissom to see what he's up to. There aren't a lot of free-agent options, and the Nationals seem eager to prove they're willing to spend.
If Cespedes gets $60 million, that's not star money for an unproven player; it's starter money for an unproven player. And with the Marlins looking to open up the teal wallet to make a statement, I don't see how they don't sign him. Even if the Yankees didn't have a center fielder -- like, were literally thinking of starting the season with seven position players -- the Marlins would still outbid them. I think they've even agreed to pay a posting fee just to make sure there aren't any complications.
Prediction: Marlins for seven years, $73 million, announced on La Decisión on C-SPAN3, right after a committee meeting on the fiscal health of the FHA.