Cespedes’ deal with Oakland Athletics raises draft issues

By Preston Barclay

Since late last summer, hype has followed Cuban sensation Yoenis Céspedes and his imminent arrival in the United States.

Céspedes, who just signed a four-year $36 million salary with the Oakland Athletics, formally established residency in the Dominican Republic in January and has been weighing offers from Major League Baseball teams ever since. The A’s fought off stiff competition from the Miami Marlins, the initial frontrunners to sign the outfielder.

Céspedes rose to prominence several years ago. In the 2009 World Baseball Classic, he hit .458 with a double, three triples, and two home runs in a six-game span for Cuba. Céspedes has routinely slugged over 20 home runs per season in Cuba’s professional league, including an impressive 33 bombs in just 90 games in 2011.

Perhaps Céspedes’ best move from a public relations standpoint was releasing a 20-minute video that demonstrated his physical ability in the weight room and on the field (the video can easily be found on YouTube by searching “Yoenis Céspedes showcase”). Kevin Goldstein, a minor league baseball analyst for baseballprospectus.com, has referred to Céspedes as the complete package and “arguably the best all-around player to come out of Cuba in a generation.”

But before we christen Céspedes as an All-Star, we should remember that it’s difficult to predict how he — along with Japanese pitching phenomenon Yu Darvish, who will begin his MLB career in 2012 with the Texas Rangers — will adjust to baseball in the States.

Other than the considerable talent gap between foreign leagues and Major League Baseball, many players with Major League skill sets struggle to adapt to the culture of America.

Céspedes’ free agency was nearly affected by an issue that surfaced in the new collective bargaining agreement regarding international free agents. In the past, teams were able to spend as much money as they wanted on international amateurs. After the collective bargaining agreement, teams are limited in the amount they can spend on players aged 16 or older from outside the United States.

Céspedes and fellow Cuban defectors will not be subject to these new rules, but future international free agents — including many from Cuba and the Dominican Republic — will not receive contracts as large as Cespedes’.

Is MLB right to limit spending on amateurs, including draft picks from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, as well as 16-year-old free agents from Latin America? It’s certainly a topic worth discussing, but it doesn’t seem fair that teams will be restricted in their pursuits for some players and not for others who, like Céspedes, are still very much unknown in quantity.

The driving force behind the decision to limit spending on certain kinds of players is a desire to level the playing field. But until a universal salary cap is instituted, the rich will continue to be able to spend lavishly on free agents, while smaller-market clubs still won’t be able to easily afford to match the contract offers their richer brethren can make. On the other hand, MLB’s decision to cap spending on some players is unfairly hindering the earning potential of many who likely won’t receive Big League paychecks in the future.

Ultimately, however, these issues remain irrelevant for the likes of Yoenis Céspedes. The young star is set for the next four years thanks to the A’s generous contract offer, which made him the ballclub’s highest-paid player despite his never playing a Major League game before. The rest of his professional baseball future is very much unclear.

If anything is certain, though, it’s that it will be interesting to watch the unfolding of MLB’s new policies concerning international players play out. Cespedes’ may be one of the last international young stars to get a rookie contract this size.

Read more here: http://www.thehoya.com/sports/cespedes-deal-raises-draft-issues-1.2778963
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