Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes defected from his home country after putting up some eye-popping numbers in both a Cuban league and in the 2009 World Baseball Classic (where he hit .458/.480/1.000 with a double, 3 triples, 2 home runs, 5 runs and 5 RBI. Small sample size, of course: six games).
On Wednesday, Cespedes established residency in the Dominican Republic and became a free agent.
That started a frenzy for fans of various teams to say, "Sign him! ZOMG he's the best thing EVAR!" Various news outlets reported many teams were interested; the Detroit News said the Cubs, Marlins and Tigers were "most active", and Cespedes himself about a week ago said the Cubs had shown the "most" interest, although the Marlins were reported to be wanting to be "aggressive to the point of stupidity" on Cespedes.
I say, let 'em. Follow me past the jump to find out why.
Here is the biggest reason for not paying Yoenis (some sources say "Yoennis") Cespedes the rumored $30 million he's asking for, from his baseball-reference.com "bullpen" page:
October 10, 1985
He's 26. He's only a little more than a year younger than Prince Fielder, and has played exactly zero games against anything resembling major league competition.
Yes, I know. I'm the one who said right here that the Cubs should sign Yu Darvish, which would have cost about three times what Cespedes would, even though he hasn't faced MLB competition, either.
Darvish, though, has played in the Japanese major leagues, which are several steps above Cuban baseball. Cuban baseball has been compared in some places to Low-A ball -- the level where most eventual major leaguers start out. Darvish is also a year younger than Cespedes.
The biggest bonus ever paid to an American draft pick was the $15 million given to Stephen Strasburg a couple of years ago. He looks like he'll be worth it, but even he's not proven yet -- and you want to give Cespedes twice as much?
The fact is, even the best Cuban players haven't produced that well in recent years in MLB. Probably the best of then was Livan Hernandez, who's been a serviceable starter, though not a star; his half-brother Orlando Hernandez, "El Duque", pitched well for a while, but who knows how old he really was when he came to the USA.
Of recent signings, we can look at a couple of big-dollar Cuban signings that have had mixed results. The White Sox signed Dayan Viciedo to a four-year, $10 million deal prior to the 2009 season; he'll make $2.5 million of that this year, and will be their fulltime right fielder with the departure of Carlos Quentin. Viciedo has shown flashes of what the White Sox hope will be a power-hitter's career, and he will turn 23 next month. But that's still a fair amount of money to have risked for little production so far.
Cespedes is three years older -- do you want to invest three times as much money in him?
A comparable deal is the one the Reds gave to Aroldis Chapman -- $30 million over six years. That's a lot of money for a pitcher who was unproven, even though he has a monster fastball and might make it into the Reds' rotation this year. Chapman, too, is young -- he'll be 24 net month, and now has major league experience.
Cespedes did poorly in a few winter league games in the D.R. -- small sample size, I admit. But his age makes me very leery about spending that kind of money. Some say Cespedes can go right to the major leagues. On what basis?
There's also some talk about signing Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, possibly for as much as $20 million. That, too, would be larger than any bonus ever paid to a US draftee. Soler is 19 and at least has several years to develop. But $20 or $30 million is a pretty large gamble to take on either one of these players; given the track record of players out of Cuba, I think I'd pass.
Again, I suspect that many of you may criticize me for being against this while I was in favor of signing Yu Darvish. That's not unreasonable, but again, I believe the quality of the competition Darvish faced was far, far higher than the competition that Cespedes and Soler have faced, and to me, that's the difference.
If Theo and Jed have $30 million lying around the office (and evidence suggests they don't), I'd recommend they use it on next year's draft and other international signings (from Asia, primarily). Let the Marlins spend "to the point of stupidity."