February 13th, 2012

Tigers had contract talks on Cespedes

The Tigers indeed had interest in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed Monday, and had contract talks with agent Adam Katz. However, Dombrowski said, they eventually determined they weren’t going to meet their contract demands.

Cespedes agreed to terms Monday with the Oakland A’s on a four-year contract worth $36 million, passing on a reported six-year offer worth the same amount from the Florida Marlins. It ended a courtship that supposedly involved more than a half-dozen teams and made Cespedes baseball’s highest-profile free agent left on the market for the last couple weeks.

The interest was high enough that Dombrowski traveled to the Dominican Republic to personally watch Cespedes work out.

“We liked him,” Dombrowski told MLB.com Monday in a phone interview. “We talked contract with him, but we were not in a position to pay for him the amount they wanted.”

For a good part of the offseason, Cespedes was believed to be the Tigers’ top free-agent target. Dombrowski was one of about a half-dozen top Tigers officials to see Cespedes, either in workouts last November or at international tournaments over the last couple years. Last month, Cespedes listed the Tigers among a half-dozen teams showing the most interest in him.

The fact that the Tigers kept their comments limited on Cespedes, and the fact that Detroit didn’t get heavily involved on high-profile free agents early in the offseason, added to the intrigue.

That level of interest didn’t change after the Tigers signed Prince Fielder last month, Dombrowski said. However, he cautioned, they determined pretty soon where their talks were heading, despite reports labeling them among the favorites.

“I really wouldn’t have ruled us as a favorite to sign him, based upon where some of our preliminary conversations went with his agent,” Dombrowski said.

Those early talks apparently showed where Cespedes wanted to go — not just in terms of annual salary, but the length of contract. Dombrowski confirmed that a four-year deal was a big point, since it would allow him to hit the free-agent market sooner rather than later.

“That was pretty much always something that they outlined,” Dombrowski said. “If you were going to sign him, you would have to agree to that.”

With Cespedes off the market, the Tigers are now set with their position roster. Dombrowski said they were likely set before Cespedes signed, believing they weren’t likely to add him.

Katz told MLB Network Radio on Monday afternoon that the Marlins were the only team that met Cespedes in person during his visit to Miami last week.

Mystery team wins again: A’s sign Cespedes

Well, the mystery surrounding the Tigers and Yoenis Cespedes can now end. The Oakland A’s have reportedly swooped in and reached agreement with the highly-touted Cuban outfielder on a four-year, $36 million deal.

Oakland was never mentioned in the conversation on Cespedes in the media until today, when news of the agreement leaked. However, one scout who was in the Dominican Republic for much of November watching Cespedes said Monday that the A’s scouted him quite a bit. As of Sunday night, the Marlins seemed to be the clear favorite. As it turned out, reports suggest Florida and Oakland offered the same amount of money, but the latter was over a shorter contract, allowing Cespedes to hit free agency around age 30 instead of 32.

The Tigers have stayed very quiet about their interest in Cespedes. Assistant general manager Al Avila and legal counsel John Westhoff were in the Dominican Republic last week, but there’s no indication either of them met with Cespedes or agent Adam Katz.

Regardless, with Cespedes off the market, the Tigers are likely set with their positional roster. Though Detroit is intent on having Miguel Cabrera at third base, don’t expect the team to take away its lineup flexibility for one of the free agents still left out there.

As for which signing was a bigger surprise, Cespedes to Oakland or Prince Fielder to Detroit, I’ll let you all debate that one.