If you were on the Internet yesterday, you probably heard about Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes. The highly-touted outfielder has drawn the interest from at least one-third of the teams in Major League Baseball, including the Phillies, according to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports. If you watch the YouTube video below, it’s hard not to get a little psyched about the guy’s potential. Even more so if you read Kevin Goldstein’s narration of the video at Baseball Prospectus.
If you’re wondering how international signings work, Dingers Blog posted a primer here. The last four paragraphs deal with Cubans. It’s not particularly complicated, but interesting nonetheless.
Bill’s Take: Given the holes on multiple fronts that the Phillies need to fill with a limited budget, I wouldn’t expect to see the Phillies in hot pursuit of Cespedes, but you never know. The Phillies don’t have any center fielders nearing a call-up and Shane Victorino becomes a free agent after the 2012 season, so Cespedes could cover the Phillies for the next five years or so. However, it is more likely that the Phillies will work out an extension with Victorino during the season or trade him by the July 31 deadline in order to fill that hole.
The Phillies are suspected to have between $30 and 40 million left to round out the roster. Furthermore, they have been more heavily linked with relievers Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon. Assuming that one of the two is signed for something near $10 million annually, the Phillies still have to sign Cole Hamels to an extension, find a shortstop, address left field and first base somewhat, and round out the bench and bullpen with $20-30 million. Given the widespread interest in Cespedes, I can’t see the Phillies competing in and winning a bidding war for his services unless Ruben Amaro plans to dumpster-dive to fill out the 2012 roster.
Paul’s Take: To be frank, I don’t know much. Like all of you, I had never even heard of this gentleman until about a week ago, when that hysterical promotional video made its way around the web.
Like Bill, though, I see financial constraints as a hindrance here. If this guy wants Aroldis Chapman money, I don’t know how that fits into the payroll with other needs more pressing. I can see how the allure of a player like Cespedes – a supposedly solid defensive center fielder with nice offensive upside – would draw big-time interest, but with so many teams supposedly interested at this point, it seems tough to put the Phils near the front of the pack.
Ryan’s Take: The Cuban free agents have a way of exploding onto the market with a comet’s tail of hype and folk legends for obvious reasons. Not only is there an added element of mystery about the player’s true ability, but I would bet there is also an intelligence cold war being waged between teams, just under the surface; none can be sure how much data any other has gathered on the player, which is important as the market for him takes shape. To those of us with only the video to go on, there are a few things that are obvious. For one, he has physical tools for days — he can jump very high, run very fast, and do a variety of squats and lifts with assorted giant weights, grand pianos, old-timey anvils, human beings, etc. attached (I’m even leaving out “explosive ability” and “core power” which, per the video, entail jumping up and down a lot of times consecutively, and thrusting your crotch into an unfortunate spotter’s face, respectively). For another, he appears to have a tremendous amount of power, and a swing that looks mechanically sound and conducive to sustaining that power. Of course, power is only useful if you can put the ball in play, and it remains to be seen how well he can do that against the caliber of pitching that exists in the MLB, replete with secondary pitches that are likely better than anything he’s seen in a league that Keith Law characterizes as “equivalent to low Class A or worse.” We’re also unable to make any inferences about his plate discipline, which itself involves a giant competitive leap for a Cuban player coming to the majors.
The Phillies aren’t known for making big IFA splashes, but, now that they’ve established a new spending power, it might be time to take full advantage of what that market has to offer. Last season’s Hunter Pence trade put the Phils’ system in an unfortunate state, and it would be nice, with the departure of Jon Singleton, to add a bat with Cespedes’ potential to it. But other big market teams are reportedly quite high on him, which will drive up his price. He’s also “26,” so he’s not really a “prospect” per se, and if it turns out that he’s major league ready in the near future, the Phillies don’t necessarily have a spot for him (granted, they could always keep Domonic Brown roasting in the organizational bronze bull for no reason at all). At the right cost, Cespedes is definitely a worthy pursuit, but the Phillies should invest generously in Cole Hamels and a starting shortstop first.