Why Billy Beane signed Yoenis Cespedes


A's GM Billy Beane knows when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em when it comes to taking gambles. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Some stadiums are loud. Some are not so loud. When fans show up, they are ready to see their ball club win. The A’s didn’t win a lot last year. The A’s don’t have any superstars. Remember Rickey Henderson, Mark McGwire? When a ballpark is empty, criticizing voices cut through the crowd. The disgust and disillusionment is audible. It’s not washed away by thousands of claps.

Forget Moneyball. It was an interpretation of things past. It’s a Hollywood film about a man who was forced to think outside the box. Billy Beane used sabermetrics like a magic wand. Who get’s on base for the lowest price? Whose BABIP makes them worth signing within budget restraints? It’s a good film, but it had nothing to do with Beane’s decision to sign the unproven Cuban defector.

Now, think about 2012. Consider what Beane must have been thinking when he signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36MM contract; four years to a 27-year-old prospect, who hasn’t seen elite pitching on a regular basis – who hasn’t played a single game with big buildings as a backdrop. Other teams offered him less. Other teams passed. Cespedes epitomizes “the unknown.” So, why would such a diligent GM dish on a player who guarantees nothing more than mystery?

Attendance.

Beane is a smart man. He knows numbers beyond batting and pitching stats. He can count. In fact, on some nights it would only take a few minutes to count fans in the Oakland Coliseum. It’s easy to count fans when they’re sitting 10 seats apart. In 2011, the Athletics were last in MLB attendance. This is a problem for any baseball team and Beane recognized that.

So, why gamble on Cespedes?

Why does anyone gamble?

Gamblers gamble because they know they must. Sometimes gamblers gamble because they have no choice. But Beane didn’t gamble, so much. He knew one very important thing.

Cespedes, unproven or not, has a name. He may be the five-tool player scouts have tagged him as, but there is another tool scouts don’t think about. It’s a tool only GMs and owners value. Fans value it in retrospect, but it’s management’s duty to fill their stadiums with big names, and that is what Beane has done.

For at least the beginning of one season, A’s fans will have a name to be excited about – jerseys to buy. The Coliseum will be more full (less empty). Peanuts and beer will be sold. There will be anticipation, hopes and dreams.

A decision was made. It had nothing to do with statistics. It was a decision of morality and conscience. Beane made the decision give his fans a reason to fill the stadium. It was a tough decision and it may not pan out, but the Oakland Athletics have the “Cuban Centipede,” as he’s called in Detroit. Beane gave his fans the great unknown. He gave them the name on the jersey – the novelty, and the excitement.

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  1. Signing Manny will do nothing to take the pressure off Cespedes, although that might have been Beane’s intention. This kid will be making big money that was freed up by shipping off Gio Gonzalez and other proven pitchers. If he doesn’t live up to the hype, there will be a lot fewer fans who are already “easy to count.”

  2.  You know what increases attendance? A winning team. You can sign all the Cubans you want who can jump over cars and star in hilarious low-budget promo videos, but if they don’t help the team win the fans won’t show. End of story. It’s hard to imagine Oakland fans flocking to the ballpark more than a couple of times for what’s little more than a curiosity, especially in light of the moves Texas and Anaheim made in the offseason

  3. So you are assuming that Cespedes will start the season in the Majors? If he doesn’t, your attendance argument goes out the window.

  4. yeah, I should have been more clear — financially he’s not a risk.  But I do think he has the ability to be a major distraction if things don’t go well for him.  

  5. yeah, I should have been more clear — financially he’s not a risk.  But I do think he has the ability to be a major distraction if things don’t go well for him.  

  6. Ernest, you’re right. I suppose the risk isn’t so much financial as it is social, residual, etc.There’s no signs this guy won’t hit .280-.300.

  7. It will be a cheap gamble.  The contract will likely be for the league min or a little bit over with performance incentives.  Not much of a gamble considering that everybody on the roster cost at least the league min.

  8. Looks like Oakland is close to signing Manny — talk about a gamble.  If they do sign Manny, Oakland will be a very interesting team.  

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