There are two international men of mystery on the free agent market this winter. The market for both has been a relatively quiet one but don’t let that fool you; these two will make an immediate impact with whatever team decides to take a flyer on them and that stove has begun to heat up within the last couple weeks (bidding on Yu Darvish ended today). I won’t begin to speculate which teams will be after them, all i will say is there will be a host of interest as we get into the end of December and into the New year.
The question I pose is a simple one: Which will be a better investment in the long run. My thought on the matter tends to lean more towards the pitching side because good pitching beats good hitting any day of the week. Period. End of discussion. There is a part of me that feels if Cespedes is placed in the right lineup, with that skill set he can do some serious damage. So lets break it down:
Yu Darvish, Age: 25 Height: 6’5 Weight: 185
What we know: He has, of course, spent his entire career over in Japan and has undoubtedly been the most dominant pitcher in that league. His accomplishments include three strikeout titles, two earned run average (ERA) titles and he is a five-time All-Star of the Japanese League. He’s big, at a sturdy 6’5 and 185 pounds he is no pushover on the mound. He has great command of all of his pitches and his mound presence was proven during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. That was my first glimpse of him on a consistent basis and within a couple games I knew he had the make-up of a front of the rotation guy then at 21. Never mind he has been doing the same things in his teens that he is displaying in his 20’s. his fastball is in the mid-90’s with good movement, and tops out at about 98 miles per hour (MPH).
What we don’t know: As is the case with most pitchers who come over from Japan we aren’t quite sure if they will be able to adjust to the schedule of the American way of playing. Hideo Nomo, Kenshin Kawakami, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Kei Igawa came over with the same amount of fanfare as Darvish is getting. While the results have been mixed, most would agree the return on the investment hasn’t been what most clubs would have hoped. The exception has been in relief. Japanese pitchers who have been used primarily in relief have shown a greater measure of success. My assumption being it is because they are used to pitching more frequently in the first place. However, with the amount expected to be bid on Darvish’s services, it is very likely he won’t be coming over to do mop up duty or be used as a super set-up man.
Yoennis Cespedes, Age: 26 Height: 5’10 Weight: 187
What we know: After watching the “Star Wars-like” scouting video I am convinced of two things. He is incredibly strong and he will hit. Pegged by many scouts to be the best player to come out of Cuba in quite some time, he looks every bit as advertised. His youth and enthusiasm make him fun to watch, and he seems to have all five tools necessary to have general managers around the league ready to convince skeptical owners to loosen the purse strings. His hands are quick to the ball inside and with good power the other way it shows he has great plate coverage. He is fast, looking more than capable of stealing between 20-25 bases depending on the team philosophy. In the outfield he was smooth and being a center fielder seemed capable of making the throws from considerable distances.
What we don’t know: My first question is mental make-up. Will he have what it takes to adjust to life in America? He will no doubt need a club with a good veteran presence and fits more of his culture. While I said I wouldn’t speculate, the Miami Marlins seem to fit both. The most recent example I have is Yunel Escobar. The talented shortstop had an up and down career in Atlanta to start, but because of apparent clashes with the old guard he was shipped to Toronto. Knowing he had the talent to be in Atlanta for a long time hurt many Braves fans, but that is the type of culture clash I speak of when I say there is definite need for an adjustment.
Verdict: I choose Cespedes over Darvish for one simple reason: Track record. Is an investment of $60 million dollars-plus for a pitcher coming over from Japan worth the risk as say $35-$45 million dollars for an outfielder with pop? That figure for Darvish doesn’t even include the bid for teams to negotiate with him. Bottom line if I am putting a contract like that out on the market I would take the risk of an everyday player over that of a pitcher. Darvish, although very, very, talented, has too great of a price tag for me to be inclined to pick him up.