The Athletics continued their offseason stockpiling of young talent with the ultimate free agent addition, signing 26-year-old Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36MM contract that allows him to reach free agency at its conclusion. Yahoo's Tim Brown first reported the agreement, while Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle added financial details and the yearly breakdown. Adam Katz of Wasserman Media Group represents Cespedes.
The A's have been aggressive on international talent in past years, though CBS Sports' Danny Knobler suggests they were a late entrant on Cespedes. The A's made a big bid for lefty Aroldis Chapman two years ago, and have now topped Chapman's record contract for a Cuban player. More significantly, the A's gave Cespedes $36MM over four years, as opposed to the six-year term preferred by the Marlins and other suitors. He'll reach the open market once again as a 30-year-old. Cespedes may benefit from some minor league seasoning, but ESPN's Buster Olney tweets that he'll get a shot right away to become Oakland's everyday right fielder.
Given his age, perhaps Cespedes should not be compared to top MLB prospects. Still, Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein would rank him 20th in baseball and Baseball America's Jim Callis would put him in the 7-15 range. Cespedes is a premium athlete with huge raw power, plenty of speed, and a strong arm. His hit tool and defensive value are more of a question.
The A's added top prospects such as Jarrod Parker, A.J. Cole, Derek Norris, and Brad Peacock this winter by trading Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, while Andrew Bailey brought the A's Josh Reddick and others. With his entire outfield up for free agency, A's GM Billy Beane allowed David DeJesus and Josh Willingham to leave, re-signed Coco Crisp, signed Cespedes and Jonny Gomes, and acquired Reddick, Collin Cowgill, and Seth Smith. Despite his lack of MLB and minor league experience, Cespedes is Oakland's highest-paid player, topping Crisp in 2012 by $500K. The window to add premium young international talent by spending eight digits on a player is closing quickly, as the new collective bargaining agreement calls for a $2.9MM per team cap beginning with the July 2012 signing period.
Though MLB executives have been following Cespedes' play for the Cuban national team for years, the general public was introduced to him with a Star Wars-like scroll and the Christopher Cross light rock tune "Sailing," which appear within the first three minutes of this ridiculous promotional video. Cespedes defected from the Cuban team in July of last year, establishing residency in the Dominican Republic and then becoming an MLB free agent. He was recently unblocked by The Office of Foreign Asset Control according to Brown (on Twitter). Goldstein tweets Cespedes is expected to arrive in Phoenix for a physical in one to two weeks, and he's already cleared his age and identity investigation and has been drug tested.
Tim Dierkes contributed to this post.