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A's take a big chance on Cespedes

Chris Ruddick,
MLB Editor


Rounding Third Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - There was one last major order of business before some baseball teams open camp on Sunday and that was to find a home for Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.

Well, that has been taken care of, albeit by a team nobody expected, the Oakland Athletics.

It's funny. While updating major league depth charts the other day, I noticed just how thin the A's roster was because their offseason up to this point has been primarily a purge, as starting pitchers Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez were dealt along with closer Andrew Bailey.

In all, Oakland received a total of 10 prospects in those deals, as the team looked toward the future with the hopes of competing by the time they open a new ballpark, hopefully by 2015. That's still not a lock, though.

Now they may have the biggest piece of that puzzle, landing Cespedes with a four-year, $36 million deal. That seems to be an awful lot of money for a player who's barely faced major league pitching from a team that just doesn't do business this way.

And with the way the contract is structured, Cespedes is not eligible for arbitration and can become a free agent after the 2015 season. Meaning, if Cespedes is this five-tool stud who everyone thinks he is going to be, the A's likely won't be able to retain him at that point.

The thought, of course, is that a stadium will be opening just as his deal is expiring and the team will be coming together as a contender, making the A's all that more enticing.

But, it's way too early to even get into that.

Cespedes had been a hot topic all winter, but most felt it was a fait accompli that he would eventually land with the Miami Marlins. The Marlins offered the same amount of money as the A's, but spread it over six years rather than the four in Oakland.

Both Chicago teams, the Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles also were said to be in the running.

So why all the fuss?

Well, the baseball public first got wind of the 26-year-old slugger at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, where by all accounts Oakland general manager Billy Beane fell in love with him.

Cespedes hit .458 in his six WBC games, then hit .333 with 33 home runs, 99 RBI and 11 stolen bases over 90 games in Cuba during the 2010-11 season. His 33 home runs were a Cuban National Series record.

He defected from Cuba last winter and was declared a free agent by Major League Baseball on Jan. 25. However, he was not allowed to sign with a team until he was legally cleared by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control.

And that happened on Monday.

Cespedes, whose deal will be finalized once he receives a visa and takes a physical, can play all three outfield positions, but will likely slot in at center field for the A's, where he joins an outfield that already includes the likes of Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick, Seth Smith, Collin Cowgill and Jonny Gomes.

So, yes, he should be able to contribute right away.

Cespedes will earn $6.5 million in 2012, $8.5 million next season and $10.5 million in each of the final two years of the deal. It's a far cry from the "Moneyball" mentality that has seemed to take on a new life the last few months, given how well the movie did at the box office and was received by critics.

Billy Beane will be the first one to tell you that investing your money in the lottery is not always the best idea. But, sometimes you have to take a chance and think outside the box. And nobody has been more outside the box than Beane.

Even with Cespedes, this team likely won't compete this year. But they will be a lot more fun to watch. And, oh yeah, Manny Ramirez may be joining him by the team breaks for spring training in Phoenix on Sunday.

Stay tuned.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Ruddick at cruddick@sportsnetwork.com.

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