Despite having all the looks of a future star, the Cleveland Indians should pass on Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Though his promotional video has been removed from Youtube, Cespedes has been the talk of baseball. Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus broke down each minute of the crazy video, which was a mixture of baseball highlights, trick catches and some hilarious, absurd shots of roasting pigs.
For all of his raw talent, it is expected that Cespedes will demand a similar contract to fellow Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman. Chapman's contract is complicated, but basically comes out to a six-year, $30 million deal between it's various bonuses and player options.
If Cespedes is even half the player he seems to be, that deal would well underpay him.
Normally the Indians only have access to players like this in the draft, but MLB Trade Rumors reports they were one of nine teams—along with the Yankees, Phillies, Blue Jays, Giants, Marlins, Nationals, Athletics and Pirates were the others—to scout Cespedes. MLB Trade Rumors also reports that the Giants are likely out on Cespedes, leaving the Indians with only seven other teams to compete with.
If it seems that Cespedes is too good to be true, it's because he probably is. The big catch with Cespedes is that he is 26 years old. While that would not be a problem if he were a normal major league free agent, it really hurts his case coming from Cuba.
ESPN Insider's Keith Law reports that Cespedes had been playing against low A-ball talent or worse in Cuba, severely hurting the credibility of his raw stats. Law also remarks that Leonys Martin—another Cuban defector who signed with the Rangers this past season—struggled in his first stint in the minor leagues. Martin's slash line in Cuba was .311/.492/.491, but that fell to .295/.362/.421 in AA and AAA this year.
While Cespedes is considered a better player than Martin, that dropoff is dramatic. Add in the fact that Cespedes admits to being 26 (and Cuban ages typically aren't reliable) and there are plenty of question marks surrounding Cespedes' major league future.
At first glance, it seems like Cespedes would be the perfect player to replace Grady Sizemore in center field in 2012. In their primes, both were plus power, plus speed, plus defense talents that teams are built around. This likely won't be the case right away with Cespedes, though.
Keith Law writes that it would not be a shock if Cespedes had to "spend time in the minors adjusting to better pitching than he saw in Cuba." Considering the lack of resources the Indians have and the fact that they need to be built to win now, they don't have time to wait on Cespedes to develop.
I wish that fixing the Tribe's outfield was as simple as signing this Cuban sensation Cespedes, but I don't see it. Best to let the Marlins or Yankees (the early favorites) sign him and hope for the best.
If the Indians are really inclined to add an outfielder in that age range, I'd rather see them go after B.J. Upton.
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