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Oakland Signs Yoenis Cespedes, Creates Outfield Surplus

In a bit of a stunner, the Oakland Athletics have become the latest #MysteryTeam to end up with a top free agent.

The Miami Marlins also made a run at Cespedes, but it appears they were only willing to offer him $36 million over the course of 6 seasons. This sort of scenario is obviously preferable for Cespedes; not only will he be paid $9 million per season over the next four years, he will then become a free agent instead of having to go through the standard six years of team control.

Many people assumed that Cespedes would receive more guaranteed money than this — some estimates had him approaching $60 million — so on the face of things, this looks like a good deal for the A’s. It’s obviously a risk, since it’s difficult to tell how Cuban players will translate to the majors, but the A’s only need him to be an average major-league player (2.0 WAR/year) for this to be a market-value deal. And if he doesn’t pan out, the A’s only have him under contract for four seasons and can move on easily enough.

Cespedes will likely be given a chance to contribute to the A’s right away, so what should we expect from him?

This is a quick-and-dirty look, but Clay Davenport’s translation of Cespedes’ Cuban stats look decent: .245/.311/.469 for a .780 OPS. That line would make Cespedes around 10-15 percent above average offensively. Given that the A’s already have Coco Crisp signed for the next three seasons, it seems likely that the A’s envision Cespedes as a corner outfielder. In other words, imagine a B.J. Upton or Adam Jones-type hitter playing average defense in left field.

But while it looks like the A’s are getting a decent deal on Cespedes, I’m curious how the A’s outfield depth will play out. At the moment, they have at least 4-5 outfielders that could start for them in 2012:

Coco Crisp – 2 year, $14 million with 2014 option
Yoenis Cespedes – 4 year, $36 million
Seth Smith – 1 year, $2.4 million (with two more seasons of team control)
Josh Reddick – five seasons of team control
Jonny Gomes – 1 year, $1 million

And that’s not even considering that they have prospects Collin CowgillChris Carter, and Michael Taylor all sitting in the minors. I can understand not believing in Carter — it’s probable his contact issues make it difficult for him to ever succeed in the majors — but by signing Cespedes, the A’s seem to be showing little faith in Cowgill, Taylor, and Reddick — two of whom they acquired this off-season in trades.

It may be that the A’s didn’t anticipate Cespedes being available for such a good deal, so they adjusted their off-season strategy on the fly and decided he was worth the investment. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s always good to add talent if it comes at a reasonable price and fits in the budget. But the A’s are now stocked to overflowing with outfield talent, and I’m not sure how they can make it all fit without trading some away over the next year or so.