Lost in the shuffle of Tuesday’s news about Prince Fielder (hey, did you hear, 9 years, $214 Mill and he is now a DETROIT TIGER) is that the Cuban Missile*, Yoenis Cespedes is now officially a citizen of the Dominican Republic and is thus a Free Agent according to Major League Baseball. The list of suitors for Cespedes is rumored to be the Chicago Cubs, the Miami Marlins, the Washington Nationals. the Chicago White Sox (wait, I thought they were rebuilding) and the…Detroit Tigers?!?!
While many national writers have crossed the Tigers off the list, Danny Knobler (for Tigers beat writer, now at CBSSports) disagrees with that premise. Dave Dombrowksi was actually asked about him (Cespedes, not Knobler) specifically at the Prince Fielder press conference today and gave his patented non-answer answer. The specific quote, thanks to Jason Beck:
"Jason Beck@beckjason Dombrowski on whether #Tigers are out of Cespedes running: “I don’t want to say on that. Most likely, but you never can tell.”"
So, in reality, the Tigers may be out of it, or they might be the front-runners. We truly won’t know until Cespedes signs with someone (and even then, I would not be at all surprised to see the team backdrop to be pulled away to reveal the Tigers logo and have Leyland, Dombrowski and Ilitch jump out from behind the curtain…nothing will surprise me from now on when it comes to this team).
Make no mistake, Yoenis Cespedes still makes a ton of sense for this team. Perhaps even MORE sense now that Miguel Cabrera is being shifted to 3B. With the assumed decline in infield defense an improvement to the outfield defense would be welcomed by all (and judging by Twitter, the national writers and some of the comments here – I literally mean ALL). With Austin Jackson patrolling Center Field and Cespedes in the other Center Field (or Left Field if you want to get technical…Lynn Henning joke, HAHA) the Tigers pitchers could rest easier knowing fly balls will not be the adventure they would be if Delmon Young was out in Left.
In addition to the defensive prowess that Cespedes could add to the Tigers, he also brings the dimension of speed, something the Tigers are lacking. While Jim Leyland will never been one to encourage stolen bases with the Tigers, that is not the only way to gauge team speed. The Tigers still need someone to go from 1st to 3rd on singles, or score from 1st on a double in the gap. Cespedes would only add to the run scoring prowess the lineup already contains. I am not going to project any sort of numbers except to say that if he put up similar splits as Delmon Young last season he would be immensely more valuable to the club thanks to his defense and speed.
There will be a lot of people that will immediately dismiss the idea of Cespedes signing with Detroit. With Danny Knobler reporting that he (Cespedes once again, not Knobler) may not want to sign with the Marlins, it makes their promise to break the bank for him to be irrelevant. Then the Tigers are left to compete with the Nationals and Cubs, two teams that they could reasonably match offers with. If the money is the same, wouldn’t you think that a man who is leaving his country and family to play baseball (and make millions of dollars) would want to go to a team that was a contender rather than a team that is rebuilding or a few years away from truly contending. Granted, all of this is predicated on the Tigers feeling a need to sign him…but if I was building a team to contend for the next few years, I think an investment in a super athletic outfielder may not be a bad idea. Right now, Yoenis Cespedes is the only available player on the market that could truly improve the team and the Tigers brass and ownership are clearly committed to doing just.
* If he doesn’t have that nickname already he really should – it works on so many levels