Yoennis Cespedes

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.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.

White Sox reportedly considering Ian Desmond

Ian Desmond
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
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Many have speculated on a potential match between the White Sox and Ian Desmond this winter, but we haven’t heard much in the way of legitimate interest. That could be changing with spring training right around the corner, as MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports that Chicago is among the teams considering the free agent shortstop.

After turning the page on Alexei Ramirez this offseason, the White Sox currently have Tyler Saladino in line to serve as their starting shortstop in 2016. The 26-year-old is considered a strong defender, but he batted .225/.267/.335 with four homers over 254 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015. Desmond is coming off a nightmare of a walk year and has seen his strikeout rate climb by 8.5 percent since 2012, but he possesses more offensive upside and it’s not hard to imagine a bounceback campaign while calling U.S. Cellular Field home.

Similar to fellow free agents Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler, Desmond is attached to draft pick compensation after turning down a one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer from the Nationals. It’s a big reason why a potential deal with the Rays is reported to be a “long shot.” Chicago’s No. 10 overall pick in this year’s draft is protected, so they would give up their No. 28 overall pick if they sign a qualifying offer free agent like Desmond.

Pirates sign reliever Eric O’Flaherty

Eric O'Flaherty
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Left-hander Eric O'Flaherty has agreed to a minor-league deal with the Pirates that includes an invitation to spring training.

O’Flaherty was one of the best relievers in the league for the Braves from 2009-2013, posting a combined 1.99 ERA in 249 innings, but Tommy John elbow surgery derailed his career and he struggled for the A’s and Mets in 2015 while dealing with shoulder problems.

It’s tough to know if O’Flaherty is healthy at this point, but the 31-year-old southpaw certainly has a chance to be a nice reclamation project for the Pirates on a no-risk contract.