Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals on winning the 2011 World Series. Now it’s time for the next season to begin: the offseason. Right away teams will need to decide if they want to keep their impending free agents by offering them arbitration or let them walk. In the case of the Oakland A’s, they’ve already said goodbye to their entire starting outfield from this season (David DeJesus, Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham). The deadline for offering arbitration is November 23. Though teams can contact players and begin negotiations, the signings don’t really begin to start moving around until after this deadline.
I’m sure everyone is aware Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder are the top available names this offseason. Even most are aware that Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins have the chance to leave the teams they’ve been with their entire careers. Let me bring to your attention two players who can make a big impact whom you’re not familiar with.
I first heard of Yu Darvish in 2008, after his second season in Japan, where he posted a 16-4 record with a 1.88 ERA. He also had 208 strikeouts in 200 innings. At the age of 21. That changes your perspective a bit doesn’t it? Unlike most Japanese free agents, Darvish is a big guy at 6’5” meaning he fits the prototype American scouts look for in a starting pitcher. By comparison Hideo Nomo is 6’2”, Hiroki Kuroda is 6’1”, and Daisuke Matsuzaka is 6’. Another advantage Darvish has going for him, which sets him apart from the aforementioned players, is his strikeout rate. Though he has a lesser rate to Nomo, he walks far fewer leading to a better ERA and therefore leading me to believe he’ll be a more successful major leaguer. From what I’ve read and heard, scouts like his windup and motion so he seems like a safe bet from a durability standpoint.
Now 24, it’s likely Darvish will command a multi-year contract upwards of $15 million per year plus the posting fee for his Japanese team. This makes signing Darvish a risky endeavor especially considering Japanese players haven’t been too successful as of late. In my opinion Darvish is the most dominating Japanese starting pitcher of my lifetime and his talent will transition well in the major leagues. He will be a difference maker.
With his cost and talent I'd speculate the Yankees and Rangers are his two most likely destinations.
See a scouting report here.
See his career stats here.
I wasn’t even aware Céspedes is a free agent until this week. Since he is a native of Cuba, Céspedes needed to defect in order to become eligible for free agency. His agent Edgar Mercedes sent out a YouTube video (which has recently been taken down) displaying his physical prowess while listing his numerous accomplishments in Cuba. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus has an excellent write up of the video that I recommend you read.
Anyway, Céspedes is a Cuba’s home run king, hitting 33 jonrones (or quadrangulares if you prefer) this past season. Blessed with supposedly a plus arm and supposedly plus range in center, he’ll be an outfielder once he arrives. I’m not sure if his best fit is center in the major leagues but I doubt most scouts know either. It’s hard to know what to expect once he comes to the U.S., however, if history is any indicator I imagine the power will translate. He’ll be capable of maintaining a decent batting average but I’ll be surprised if he walks more than thirty times. I really have no idea how good Céspedes can be though there are several success stories of Cuban defectors. Yunel Escobar, El Duque, and Alexei Ramirez are just three examples of valuable players that looked like steals for the clubs that signed them. Expect there to be a frenzy around Céspedes similar to that of fellow Cuban Aroldis Chapman, and expect the victor to pay a pretty penny for this relative unknown. My guess is the Marlins, Yankees, Reds, White Sox, Rangers, Mets, Red Sox, and Cubs will all show interest with the Marlins and Yankees being his two most likely destinations. Is $12 million a year a possibility? I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more.
A quick run down of his accomplishments can be found here.