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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 13, 2012 at 12:51 PM

Oakland A’s, who signed Yoenis Cespedes today, are a hard team to figure

cespedes.jpg

Another prospects list came out today, this one by Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus. The Mariners placed four in his top 101 — Jesus Montero No. 7, Taijuan Walker No. 14, Danny Hultzen No. 35 and James Paxton No. 59. Shortstops Nick Franklin, who has appeared on most of these lists (and was ranked 44th by Goldstein last year), was omitted.

Back in December, Oakland GM Billy Beane essentially wrote off the 2012 season. After trading away All-Stars Gio Gonzalez (to Washington) and Trevor Cahill (to Arizona) for prospects — another trade of an All-Star pitcher, Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox, would follow soon — Beane told the San Francisco Chronicle that their new strategy was to build the core of the team in time for the potential opening of a new stadium in a few years:, “There wasn’t going be a move we could make to compete with Texas and Anaheim,” Beane said.

He added, “I’d rather run a club that has a 3- or 4-year plan and implements it and see it getting better over time, than going on the patchwork basis of year-to-year. We haven’t been as successful when we go year-to-year.”

But Beane being Beane, the A’s have continued to make a flurry of moves, the latest of which is a total shocker: the A’s today signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36-million deal. The A’s may yet still sign Manny Ramirez, who still has to serve a 50-game suspension. The Mariners, of course, are keeping an interested eye on the A’s, who are trying to get to the same place as them — on a par with the Rangers and Angels. In the present, however, the A’s and M’s figure to fight it out for supremacy of the “have not” portion of the AL West, the lower tier beneath apparent division titans in Anaheim and Texas.

Absolutely no one saw today’s signing coming. Cespedes was regarded as a virtual lock to sign with the Miami Marlins, who had been wooing him hard. Instead, Cespedes opted to join an Oakland outfield that is suddenly crowded with candidates despite letting David DeJesus and Josh Willingham leave via free agency (along with DH Hideki Matsui).

In December, the A’s were projecting an outfield of prospects Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill and Michael Taylor. But then Beane, somewhat suprirsingly, re-signed Coco Crisp (two years, $14 million), traded for Colorado’s Seth Smith, and signed Jonny Gomes as now Cespedes.

It will be interesting to see how all that sorts out. Manager Bob Melvin also has to sort out a pitching staff that figures to be exceedingly young (except for Bartolo Colon, another Beane winter signing). Dallas Braden is 50-50 to be ready for the start of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery in May, and they hope Brett Anderson will be back in July from Tommy John surgery. In the meantime, the likes of Brad Peacock, Tom Milone and Jarrod Parker , with a combined 43 2/3 innings of major-league experience, could play key roles in the rotation.

The A’s are in much the same boat as the Mariners, needing their young prospects — many of them obtained in those three aforementioned trades — to progress this season. The Cespedes signing is an expensive gamble by Beane that the outfielder, rated a potential star by some scouts, is the real thing. As Clark Spencer pointed out recently, Cuban defectors have a mixed record of success.

The A’s, as always, will be an interesting team to watch. And they just got more interesting today.

(Photo by Associated Press)

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