Prized international talent on Rangers' radar
Texas may be interested in Cuba's Cespedes, Japan's Darvish
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers' interest in Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes and right-handed pitcher Armando Rivera is still "to be determined," according to club officials. Both, having left Cuba, are seeking Major League positions and are reminders that there are international options for Texas to consider this offseason.The Rangers are expected to send scouts to see Cespedes, a 26-year-old defector who is working out for teams in the Dominican Republic and is expecting to be in a big league camp in the spring. Cespedes is already drawing significant interest across the Majors. He hit .333 with 32 home runs, 99 RBIs and 11 stolen bases over 90 games in Cuba during the 2010-11 season and is being advertised as a legitimate center fielder with speed and power. Depending on the source, the Marlins are looking at Cespedes this week, while the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Indians, Blue Jays, Pirates, Tigers, Nationals and A's are all among the teams showing interest. The Rangers' interest could depend on a number of factors, but, as one club official put it, they will always at least send scouts to look at and evaluate any player, especially one of this potential magnitude. Cespedes played in six games for Cuba in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, going 11-for-24 with two home runs and five RBIs. Rivera, 23, is a hard-throwing 6-foot-3 pitcher who can hit 98 mph, with a sinker, changeup, split-finger fastball and slider. He pitched for Industriales, the top team in Cuba. The Rangers made their first significant acquisition of Cuban talent last May when they signed outfielder Leonys Martin to a five-year, $15.5 million contract. Martin played in 73 games in the Minor Leagues after signing and hit .295 in 302 at-bats with 53 runs scored, 16 doubles, five triples, four home runs, 42 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. He went 3-for-8 in eight games for Texas in September, and is now 5-for-25 with one home run in limited action in the Arizona Fall League. Martin, also 23, will likely need more time in the Minor Leagues. Cespedes is considered a more advanced player in his development and could command over $30 million. The largest contract ever given to a former Cuban player came two years ago, when the Reds signed left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million deal. Josh Hamilton played center field for Texas in the playoffs, but the club would like to move him back to left field. The Rangers used a variety of center fielders during the regular season, including Hamilton, Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry and Endy Chavez. Borbon and Gentry will be back in 2012, while Chavez is a free agent. Martin is on the 40-man roster and will be in Major League camp. The Rangers might consider reinforcing their options in center and taking a run at Cespedes, but they probably have more pressing needs with their available financial resources. The club's highest priority remains starting pitching. Texas still has interest in re-signing pitcher C.J. Wilson, but he is considered to be one of the top free-agent pitchers on the market and is already drawing attention from other clubs. The Yankees, Marlins, Angels and Nationals have all shown interest in Wilson in the early stages of the offseason. The Rangers are looking at other free-agent starters, including Mark Buehrle and Roy Oswalt. The potential biggest prize of the offseason remains a mystery. The Nippon Ham Fighters have yet to decide if they will post pitcher Yu Darvish and allow him to play in the United States next year. If they do, the Rangers are expected to be interested. Darvish is not the only Japanese pitcher who will draw interest from Major League teams. Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who is described as the "Japanese Jamie Moyer," is a free agent and planning to jump to the United States. He was 16-5 with a 1.51 ERA for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks last season. Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, who was 6-7 with a 2.42 ERA for the Tohuku Rakuten Golden Eagles, is also a free agent. He was posted last year and Oakland won his rights, but the two sides were not able to agree to a contract. The other Japanese free-agent pitcher who is drawing interest, but is not sure if he is coming to the United States, is left-hander Wei-Yin Chen, who was 8-10 with a 2.68 ERA in 2011 for the Chunichi Dragons.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.