Yoennis Cespedes can fly, but where will he eventually land?
At some point in January Yoennis Cespedes will establish residency in the Dominican Republic. Once that happens a free-agent frenzy of sorts is expected to break out.
Cespedes is nearly mythical at this point. He's the "Keyser Soze" of the 2011-2012 free agent class. Everyone seems to know how amazing his skills are but very few people have actually seen him play baseball. Or they've seen workouts as well as slickly produced made for hype YouTube videos of him.
An actual game, against real big league competition? That's a different story.
Cuban defectors have moved onto major league baseball with varying results. Orlando Hernandez and Livan Hernandez both had pretty impressive runs as major league pitchers. Jose Contreras was a disappointment.
Aroldis Chapman who was the last big name Cuban player to come to America has fulfilled his promise as far as his physical ability goes. He arrived with a reputation as one of the hardest throwing pitchers on the planet and having touched 105 miles per hour in a major league game he's fulfilled that promise. His actual performance has been up-and-down so far. He's still young and still holds tons of promise though.
Cespedes is cut from the Chapman cloth. He's young and his pure athletic ability is probably as good as just about any player in major league baseball.
Can he hit a major league curveball though? Can he play within the structure of the majors? Is he mature enough now? Will he be able to learn? Those are the type of intangibles that dog every prospect regardless of their background. When that prospect is from another country as well a culture that remains fairly isolated from ours those concerns get magnified.
Cespedes has plenty of suitors. It's pretty much the regular big-market laundry list with teams like the Nationals and Marlins who are flush with cash thrown in as well.
The odds on favorites are the Marlins due in large part to the massive Cuban population in Miami. The Marlins have clearly embarked on a mission to make sure their controversial new stadium is full and have already inked Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle to free agent contracts. They were in on Albert Pujols until almost the end of the bidding war as well.
The Yankees, Red Sox, Tigers, Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, and Nationals are all also said to have more than just casual interest. Cespedes makes sense for each of these teams as well - provided of course that he fulfills the lofty expectations that will be draped upon him. He's expected to command a fairly high price and that may scare off teams like Boston who have made it known they're not likely to add any sort of considerable money to their already sky high payroll this offseason.
In addition there is very real concern about how good he'll be. He's expected to command a contract in the $35-$60 million dollar range. That's not a massive amount but for a guy who doesn't have as much as one triple A at-bat it's high. What if he can't hit major league breaking balls? What if he's not disciplined enough to utilize his prolific athletic ability over a 162 game major league season?
Those are the types of concerns that will eventually thin out the ranks of the teams pursuing him. He's a risk. Someone is going to take that risk and the odds on favorites still seem to be Miami.