A’s could strike gold with Yoenis Cespedes

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The A’s finally pulled off their big international signing.

Oakland wanted Aroldis Chapman two years ago, but came up short when the Reds bid $30 million for six years. Last winter, they were willing to commit $36 million to bring Hisashi Iwakuma over from Japan, but since $19.1 million of that was in the form of a posting fee, it wasn’t enough to land the right-hander.

Now that $36 million has been spent, given to Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes as part of a four-year deal. It was a surprising contract, in that it provides the 26-year-old Cespedes with the right to become a free agent after four years. Still, it’s a worthy gamble for a team with very little to lose.

This was really the only way the A’s were going to hit a home run. Elite free agents were out of their price range, and while the A’s haven’t been any good in years, they also haven’t been so bad as to land a top-five draft pick (maybe that will finally change next year). So, they took a chance.

I think best-case scenario has Cespedes performing like a $15 million-per-year player for the next four years. Oakland is a tough place to hit, but Cespedes could prove to be a .290, 25-homer guy anyway. The worst-case scenario is that he has big problems adjusting to life in the U.S. and proves completely worthless. That’s a possibility. Strictly from a talent standpoint, I don’t expect Cespedes to wash out. Maybe he turns out to be nothing more than a .260 hitter with 15-20 homer power, but it would come with plus defense in left or right field, making him something close to an average regular.

The big negative here is that even is that the A’s have limited their upside by allowing Cespedes to become a free agent after four years. Cespedes will likely open 2012 in the minors and he’ll probably need some time to get accustomed after he does arrive, so I wouldn’t expect him to be much of an asset until 2013. He’ll then be able to walk away after 2015.

The A’s, though, needed to do something like this. As much payroll as they had shed, they actually might have gotten themselves in trouble with the MLBPA if they didn’t (remember that the union had a hand in forcing the Marlins to increase their payroll two years ago). Ideally, they’ll open a new stadium in San Jose in 2015 with Cespedes as their showcase player. And if it doesn’t work out, well, it’s $9 million that Billy Beane won’t be able to spend on Marlon Byrd and Matt Capps next winter.

Yankees oust Aroldis Chapman from the closer’s role

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The writing was on the wall, but the Yankees made it official on Saturday: Aroldis Chapman is no longer closing games for the Bronx Bombers. Comments from manager Joe Girardi suggested that the move is a temporary one, however, and he told reporters that Chapman will be utilized at “different points” in the game as the Yankees try to pinpoint the source of the left-hander’s struggles.

There’s no question that the flame-throwing southpaw has been off his game for a while, and his season 4.29 ERA, 4.3 BB/9 and 12.6 SO/9 hints at some of the issues he’s been facing. He imploded in each of his last three appearances, issuing a cumulative five hits, six runs and five strikeouts over just 3 1/3 innings. It seems plausible that the left rotator cuff inflammation that sidelined him several months ago has resurfaced, but the veteran lefty said Friday that he doesn’t believe any physical issues have caused his decline.

While Chapman works out the kinks in his mechanics, the Yankees will look to some combination of Dellin Betances and David Robertson to cover the ninth inning. Girardi wouldn’t commit to either reliever in the closer’s spot, however, and said he’d take it on a case-by-case basis depending on the match-ups in any given game. The long-term plan is still to reinstate Chapman, whenever that might make sense for the team.

“He’s been scuffling over the past 10 days, two weeks,” Girardi said. “I just thought for us to get him back on track, maybe the best way would be to move him around a little bit until he gets going. When we get him going like I believe he’ll get going, there’s a good chance I’ll put him right back in that closer’s role.”

Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.