I’m on the record saying that Yoenis Cespedes is a poor way to spend a big pile of money, if his market price is as high as advertised. I still believe this, although the new CBA makes me a little more apt to endorse going big on super-risky guys like Cespedes. But since the word on the street is that the Yankees are either strong favorites for his services or aren’t interested at market price. Ignoring his absurd price for a second, I think it’s worth thinking a little bit about what the Yankees would do with him.
Cespedes was one of the best players in Cuba last season. He hit .333/.424/.667, and was selected to the league’s all star team as a center fielder. By all accounts, he is very fast, and has a pretty good arm. No one really knows if he’s truly good defensively in center, but he certainly displays the tools to man the position.
The Yankees would be very foolish to thrust Cespedes directly into the major leagues. We don’t know all that much about the competitiveness of the Cuban Leagues, but it’s definitely no NDB. I don’t care how talented he is, virtually no player can make that kind of leap in competition without some time to learn the North American game and adjust.
Where does he start his minor league career? Kendrys Morales started at High-A, but was quickly promoted to Double-A. He maintained an OPS of .879 there, and posted the same OPS when promoted to Triple-A one year later. It took him half a season to adjust to the major leagues, but has averaged a .838 OPS since.
Cespedes would probably take a similar path, but there is reason to believe he might have a slightly accelerated time table. He will be five years older than Morales was, and hit a little bit better during his time there. He also plays center field instead of 1st base, which means that a lot more of his value will be provided on defense. This is important, because fielding as a skill translates pretty quickly, especially in the outfield, across different levels of competition. Any value he provides on defense should be fairly constant. Add this all up, and I could see the logic behind starting Cespedes at Double-A Trenton, then quickly moving him up to Triple-A. This would set up for a very late 2012 (September?) debut/audition, and possibly 2013 starting job.
That 2013 target date is very important. Nick Swisher will be a free agent after the 2012 season, and Curtis Granderson will be in the final season of his contract. Brett Gardner will be 29 years old, and his own free agency will start to appear on the horizon. Mason Williams, even if everything goes well, will likely be at Double-A or Triple-A. The Yankees would be in a position to both try Cespedes in center field, shifting Granderson to right, while still having plenty of insurance around if he failed to hit or play the position well. If he can’t handle center defensively, they have the better of Gardner and Granderson to pick from while Cespedes plays a corner spot. And, if he completely sucks, resigning Nick Swisher is always an option. The Yankees get to take a high-dollar risk, but hold a bunch of options in reserve in case it does not work out.
The most important lesson in this intellectual exercise? Yoenis Cespedes is not an option for 2012. The Yankees do not need him in 2012, and it would be stupid to push him to the major leagues right away. If Cespedes is looking for a team to push him immediately to the majors, the Yankees would be silly to put a bid in, given their MLB-best outfield setup already in place. If Marc Craig’s report that the Yankees are out of the running is true, that could very well be the reason.