According to Diario Libre, the Chicago Cubs appear to be the leading in the chase to acquire Cuban defector and free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. The intriguing center fielder spoke with the media on Monday night, sharing this unexpected tidbit:
“Of all the teams who have come, the most interested in me has been the Chicago Cubs,” Cespedes said Monday at the Quisqueya Stadium… “I dined a few times with them and talked a lot, but that does not mean it is certain I will sign with them. I’m just telling it like it is, they have shown more interest than others.”
(translated by Google Chrome and me, Brad)
If I had snuck into your house this morning and grabbed you by the shoulders before you reached a news device and asked you: “What team is making the biggest play for Cespedes right now?” I’m fairly confident you would have answered, “The Miami Marlins; I’m calling the police.”
But, nay, it is Chicago apparently. Much of this offseason, the Cubs have been playing the quintessential flirt, giggling as they trot around the country, driving prices up for all the free agents they don’t really want.
Well, maybe this Cespedes business is for real. And if it is, does it makes sense?
Cespedes will be 26 for the 2012 season and reportedly plays a strong center field. He hit an ungodly .333/.424/.667 slash in the Cuban league in 2011, but the Cuban league also has a guy who finished the season with an OPS of 1.583 — seriously, video game stuff here.
Anyway, the projections and translations I have heard from scouts and statisticians alike place Cespedes’s hitting talent somewhere between league average (100 wRC+) and maybe a slice above league average (110 wRC+). Add that to his decent speed (capable of maybe 15 or more steals) and a potentially good glove and voila!, he’s a decent player, maybe somewhere between 2.5 to 3.5 WAR.
So why do the Cubs want him? Well, their present center fielder, Marlon Byrd, is basically that exact some player except with maybe a touch less speed and power (but still in that 2.5 to 3.5 win range). Byrd, however, will be 34 in 2012 and entering his final year under contract with the Cubs.
Despite his age — and perhaps a testament to the value-depleted Cubs organization — Byrd is one of the more valuable trade chips at Jed Hoyer’s disposal. Behind Matt Garza, Marlon Byrd offers trading partners the most proven talent — solid hitting, good fielding, and an all-around acceptable one-year player.
The problem is, of course, that Byrd is still on the Cubs roster and owed upwards of $6M — oh yeah, and the Cubs are in reboot mode. Not rebuild mode. Reboot mode. They are basically whitewashing their system of Hendry’s guys and preparing not for 2012 but 2013 and 2014. From day one, Theo Epstein has been talking about “building assets” and developing “sustainable success” — I have not once heard him say something to the tune of: “We feel good about our team heading into the season,” or “World Series here we come, baby, yeah!”
Not only is he a possible long-term outfielder for the Cubs, Cespedes also could prove cheaper than Byrd too. My previous ruminations suggested he might reasonably catch a contract like this:
2016: $9M (player option)
…With a signing bonus of $8M, plus or minus $3M.
Who knows? I might be way off on that note, but given the unusual nature of the league he is coming from, I would certainly not pay him much more than that. For the Cubs, it would not make sense to sign Cespedes to a shorter contract (which, from what I understand, Cespedes does not want anyway) because the team is still far from sustained competitiveness.
There is no denying the Cubs would prefer Cespedes over Byrd on their roster in 2012, but the tougher question is are they willing to sell Byrd cheap in the process? On top of that, there is the problem of Brett Jackson, the Cubs’ top prospect who also happens to play center field. Maybe the team, which has no intention of starting Alfonso Soriano through the entirety of his contract, anticipates either Cespedes or Jackson will be better suited to left field?
Jackson presents a much less troubling conundrum — the Cubs have three veteran outfielders, and only one of them should be a starter by 2014 (him being David DeJesus, who is flexible enough to play wherevz).
So is Cespedes a good fit for the Cubs? If I am Jed Hoyer — and most days I wish I was — then I would say yes. If I cannot find a trade partner for either Soriano or Byrd, then I would happily make Soriano a platoon partner for DeJesus, Alfonso’s contract be damned. Because Cespedes makes sense, and not a lot has for the Cubs in the last 100 years.
NOTE: Look, I have no f’ing clue which is the right spelling for Cespedes. I know it’s either Yoenis, Yoennis, or Yoeni, so I just pick one of those at random each time I write about him. If that bothers you, then by all means set up an interview with him for me and we’ll sort this whole thing out.