With yesterday's announcement that Yoennis Cespedes has been granted free agency (H/T MLB Daily Dish), let the derby begin for his 2012 and future services. You have better believe that the Miami Marlins are major suitors for Cespedes's services according to MLB.com's Joe Frisaro, as they have been linked to him ever since his first viral workout video came out. The Marlins are said to be "aggressive right to the point of stupidity" in terms of their chase for Cespedes's services.
Of course, the Fish are not the only suitors for Cespedes. In Frisaro's piece, he lists five other teams besides the Marlins who may have some interest.
He also mentioned that the Marlins would be willing to go four to six years with Cespedes. In an offseason that has already been jam-packed with free agent goodies, picking up a supposedly premium power hitter like Cespedes, even if he is raw, seems like an interesting situation. But with the competition the team could have, we should at least consider which team might want Cespedes the most.
Depending on who you ask, Cespedes could either a capable center fielder or a future corner outfielder; the Washington Nationals actually believe he may be a future first baseman. But right now, the Marlins' only remaining "hole" in terms of position players is center field, and Cespedes would fit nicely in that area. Add the potential for great development, and Cespedes could be a perfect long-term fit for the Fish even when the immediate core of players potentially leave the team.The biggest draw for the Marlins, however, is his status as a Cuban immigrant. It is no secret that the Marlins have been branding themselves as a true representative of the city of Miami, and they see no better way to continue to establish that new identity than to import the best Cuban free agent available. The team figures that the marketing power of having a Cuban-born player in a starring role on the team as a marquee free agent signing should further establish the Marlins as a Hispanic brand in the eyes of the fans.
Of course, more than a few things could get in the way of that scenario. One of them is that Cespedes may not want to play in Miami, though those reports are certainly conflicted. Second is the possibility that Cespedes may not be a true center fielder, as the Marlins already have a franchise right fielder in Mike Stanton and a left fielder in Logan Morrison that should move to first base. If the club insists on keeping both of those aforementioned players at their positions, Cespedes may be stuck manning a position he may not be able to play well.
Ultimately though, these concerns are going to be drowned by what the Marlins likely see as a huge marketing opportunity. Whether it is appropriate or not, the Fish will go all-out (but within reason, apparently) for Cespedes.
Interest Level: High
The Cubs apparently were Cespedes's most ardent suitors as of last week according to his own words (H/T MLB Trade Rumors). For the Cubs, this is an excellent idea as well. They seem to be willing to shed all sorts of money in order escape from being pinned to playing "franchise player" Alfonso Soriano. The Cubs are clearly interested in doing as much restarting as possible with the new regime, and it would not surprise me if their major signing happened to be Cespedes.
The Cubs do have Brett Jackson waiting in the wings in the minors, but it is doubtful that he does anything to affect the Cubs' need to acquire another outfielder; should they be able to trade away Soriano, they should have more than enough outfield slots to account for both Jackson and Cespedes. With the Cubs interested in building a future and not necessarily a present, Cespedes's raw play in 2012 will not affect them as much as it would affect the Marlins. In truth, the Cubs would be just as strong a landing spot as the Fish would be.
Interest Level: High
The Tigers were one of the major suitors for Cespedes, but as you might have heard, they recently signed Prince Fielder to an enormous deal. However, according to Danny Knoebler of CBSSports, this signing might have no impact in the ability for the Tigers to land Cespedes. They remain in the hunt despite their enormous future commitment to the burly first baseman.
I'd be skeptical of this, however. The Tigers' owner has always been willing to open the purse strings, so I am certain that the Tigers will remain interested in Cespedes's services. But the weight of their most recent deal seems like the type of move that prevents a club from pursuing other interests at full strength. Consider the possibility that a team will eventually have to "overpay" for Cespedes (call it the "winner's curse," if you will). With the Tigers already massively overpaying for Fielder, can they swallow another potential overpay for a still-unknown product? That team is currently built to win now, with significantly lower flexibility in the future due to the weight of the team's three major contracts. If the Tigers are going to make a commitment in 2012, it seems like it should be more of a "win-now" move than one with only the possibility of panning out.
Interest Level: Moderate
I'm not certain about the other players in the list of six. The Orioles and White Sox are in "rebuilding" mode and perhaps are looking for their next outfield star. Either of those teams would be interested in picking up a player who does not have to be good in 2012 in order to be useful to them in the long haul, which makes them similar to the Cubs. The Indians look to be a complete wild card of a team; they could range from anywhere between "competitive" to "bottom-feeding" depending on their current players available. Like some of the other teams on this list, they could probably afford to wait for Cespedes to develop, as they do not have an immediate need for victory.
Interest Level: Moderate
I think the Marlins are still likely the frontrunners, since they have certainly sounded the most aggressive. The fit still seems best in Miami, and it seems the club is at least open to the idea of committing more than four years to the Cuban import. If Cespedes has no problem playing with the Marlins, I suspect he will be wearing "Miami" across his jersey once late May or June rolls around.