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.

Mike Rizzo and Shawn Kelley almost got into a physical confrontation

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A few weeks back the Washington Nationals designated reliever Shawn Kelley for assignment the morning after he threw his glove into the ground and glared at the Nats dugout in frustration after giving up a homer in a blowout win against the Mets. He was later traded to the Athletics. Nats GM Mike Rizzo said at that time that he thought Kelley was trying to show up his manager and that there was no room for that sort of thing on the team, offering an “either you’re with us or you’re working against us” sentiment in the process.

Today the Washington Post talks about all of the Nationals’ bullpen woes of late, and touches on the departure of Kelley as being part of the problem. In so doing, we learn that, on the night of Kelley’s mound tantrum, he and Rizzo almost got into a physical confrontation:

Rizzo headed down to the clubhouse and confronted Kelley, according to people familiar with the situation. The argument became heated, including raised voices, and eventually it almost became physical, according to people familiar with the exchange. Adam Eaton got between the two of them and separated them before things could advance further . . .

Might I point out that, the fact of this emerging now helps to vindicate Brandon Kintzler who, the day before, was traded away, some say, for being the source for negative reports from inside the Nats’ clubhouse?

That aside, the article does not make anyone look good, really. Rizzo had the backing of his team with the Kelley incident, but the overall story — how did the Nats’ bullpen, which was once a strength — get so bad? — does no favors for Rizzo. Mostly because he seems to have thought that they had so much extra bullpen depth that they could afford to deal away Kintzler, which he says was a financial move, not a punitive trade for being a media source.

Question: when was the last time you heard a baseball man say he had too much relief pitching? Especially today, in which the bullpen has assumed such a prominent role? Seems rather unreasonable to cut relievers when you’re trying mightily to come back from a sizable deficit in the standings, yes?