Yoenis Cespedes raises his hands in celebration, but will probably use both of those two hands to choke the life out of the Oakland A's.
Yoenis Cespedes, who recently became a free agent, has signed with the Oakland A’s. Perhaps it was just the A’s turn, the rest of the division had made high-profile moves, and the A’s were left out. They became the third of four teams to sign a top free agent to a multi-year, large dollar figure contract, leaving out only the Mariners, as the Rangers signed Yu Darvish while the Angels signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Now the A’s will spend $36 million over the next four years on Cespedes.
Oakland is a pretty curious landing spot for Cespedes. They hadn’t really been mentioned as a potential landing spot, and they don’t have a ton of money. They weren’t at a provincial advantage, as Oakland is close to as far away from Cuba as Cespedes could have played (unless he’d have signed in Seattle). The biggest issue though, is that it’s hard to make an argument that Cespedes, or any high-profile Cuban player that has come to America amid fanfare and flying dollars is some sort of market deficiency.
“Market deficiency” may be the most valuable words printed in the entire book Moneyball. Those that marginalize it a book about walks, or a book about WHIP, probably haven’t read it. Anyone who believes that Peter Brand is a real person, definitely hasn’t read the book. And anyone who saw the movie saw one third of the story.
For a long time before that book came out, the Oakland A’s were one step ahead of evolution. Large market teams did everything they could to make the A’s extinct, and the A’s held on to competitiveness by outsmarting other teams, not by outspending them. Market deficiencies have become a lot harder to find since then. Even the Bill-Bavasi-Mariners had a SABR guy, though there’s presently no proof that there was a phone in his office, let alone anything greater than paper cups tied together with yarn.
Since Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi left the A’s, they’ve had a lot harder time competing in a world of increasing budgets. Now, instead of signing guys on the brink of retirement, maybe half-hoping that desperation had jammed a needle full of designer steroid into their veins, the A’s have struggled to find diamonds in the rough.
They tried to win with defense. That didn’t work. They tried to win by signing great relief pitchers. That didn’t work. Just this offseason they’ve traded away Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill, and Andrew Bailey, three young pitchers, and probably lost all three trades.
The A’s bought a $36 million lottery ticket, banking on the idea that Cespedes will be able to translate production he had in Cuba to some large fraction of that in the bigs. The problem is that it really close to illegal to have done much scouting on Cespedes before this offseason. He’s as big a wildcard as any player that was available this offseason. There’s a good chance that he’ll struggle to translate his skills in the United States. There’s a better chance that even if Cespedes is good, the A’s still won’t be.
For Cespedes though, this deal is probably ideal. Originally it looked like Cespedes would be signing something in the range of a six-year, $40 million deal. So in exchange for $4 million of theoretical cash, Cespedes will get to hit free agency again two years sooner. If we assume that all years of either contract would have equal salaries (which just makes this easier) we can adjust Cespedes’ contract’s value for inflation. If was assume a five percent inflation rate on contracts over the course of either deal, the following are the present-day value of both contracts.
So the real value of the contract is much closer. Less than $2 million apart. About 5.3 percent of the total value of the contract, for the chance to hit free agency at age 30 instead of age 32, with very little ground to make up on the total value of his first six years in the majors.
This depends of course on whether or not the contract forces Cespedes to go through the arbitration process at the end of his four guaranteed years. Even if he’s locked into arbitration, and is put through arbitration for his final two years of team control, he’s likely looking at a $60 million over those six years.
Signing Cespedes, as an Oakland A’s process, was one that has probabilities to volatile to make it anything but a mistake. And the difference between large payroll and small payroll teams is the ability to absorb such mistakes.