Now that Ryan Madson is off the market for the irritatingly great price of 1 year for $8.5 million, the last expensive but undeniably plus reliever is gone. Unless Kenny Williams signs off on 4-year deal with Francisco Cabrera rights before the doctors realize what's wrong with him*, the specter of the White Sox panicking at the openness of their bullpen situation and burning their hard-earned savings seems to have passed. Now they can have Major League-style Spring Training auditions, or sign Joel Zumaya to be J.J. Putz The Sequel: Higher Injury Risk! Lower Ceiling!
But since that won't actually be an exciting process, and the mysterious Yoenis Cespedes rumor has been hanging over for a while, with no real idea of what it will cost or what it will bring or whether it's even possible. Let's explore that! There's no way to know the answer to the last two questions yet, and probably no way to know the first one either. But still, early January is the season for dreams**.
Since his initial, curiously bizarre first entrance onto the scene, Cespedes has made the rounds working out for teams, and a second scouting video has come out with less of a focus on shirtless dancing and pig-roasting, and more footage of the ever-so-telling batting practice highlights and methodically executed running drills.
From viewing, I can tell that Cespedes has above-average speed, can hit a ball out of a Cuban baseball stadium, probably isn't going to be an actual switch-hitter in the major leagues, and has a wonderful career in B-movies ahead of him. But perhaps a better option would be to synthesize the observations of others more familiar with eccentric scout videos.
Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus, making liberal use of the 20-80 scouting scale:
"Some scouts have put a 70 grade on Cespedes' power, and it is easy to see why. There is also evidence of some of the length and lunging in his swing that some are concerned about. It's hard to find a scout who has thrown a plus grade on Cespedes' hit tool, but even at 50, it's his lowest score of the five."
Thomas Belmont at Baseball Instinct is more bullish on his power and contact ability:
But one thing we already know is that the stats will not ring true to major league production. With that said, I think that Cespedes will have regression in areas like strikeout/walk ratio and his power output. But even if he regresses to a line of .290 with 25+ HR power while playing CF at an above average level, we would be talking about a 5 year $75mm contract for a player still in his prime.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see him settle in at LF though. So that line would make league average at best. It’s going to take some continued development of his power to make him a top level player in LF. If you take his 33 HR in 394 AB and stretch it out over a full 550 AB you are looking at approx 55 HR. Cut that for regression to the major league level by 30% and he could have 30-35 HR power now that he’s in his prime. That is the line that will make whatever team signs him, get their dollars worth.
There's not really the hubbub around Cespedes' fielding to suggest he's a plus centerfielder, but there's enough in his raw drill scores to suggest he at least has the footspeed to be an above-average corner outfielder. For a team that already has a competent centerfielder, a competent centerfielder on a mental sabbatical, a fourth outfielder capable of playing centerfield, and Dayan Viciedo - Human Turret, this isn't a damning flaw.
Without having access to Cespedes HBP totals, I would calculate his walk rate in the last season (49 walks in 403 PA's) to be 12.1% with a low, low, low K-rate of 9.9% (40 K's). Obviously, that would be phenomenal, but Goldstein's notes about his swing along with the fact that his .333 batting average was only good enough for 33rd in the league, suggests that making contact will be nowhere near as easy for him in the MLB as it was in Cuba. His plate discipline can be expected to similarly decline.
But frankly, even a player who struggles to hold onto an average OBP with power to all fields can thrive at U.S. Cellular. There are certainly doubts, but I find myself feeling obligated to support the pursuit of Cespedes provided the market for him doesn't explode into the prohibitive range.
I'd feel obligated to support the White Sox by default reducing the amount of playing time guaranteed to Alex Rios, and thereby by default improving their outfield defense. I'd feel obligated to support any effort actually related to the White Sox signing international talent, or acquiring someone before their prime, or signing someone with upside, or signing someone for reasons other than their production being easily projected.
I'd feel obligated to support it because it'd be fun, a gleefully distracting and circus-like addition to a typically drab and demure clubhouse. It'd be a showy reason to watch in a year that might otherwise require patience.
He might suck though.
*What's wrong with Kenny, that is
**HAHAHA, of course not.
***Fun note: John Danks is being paid a $500 K base salary this season, with a $7.5 million signing bonus to be paid out some time between June and October. Hopefully Danks knows what the precise date will be. I'm just amused by the prospect of him having smaller game checks than Phil Humber.