Miami would be perfect fit for Cespedes
Transition from Cuba would be smoother if Marlins get their man
Yoenis Cespedes' desire to play in the Major Leagues took him from Cuba to the Dominican Republic last summer, to winter ball struggles, to being declared a free agent two weeks ago and, on Wednesday, to Miami for lunch and a ballpark tour with eager Marlins officials.
Cespedes doesn't need to see any more. If the money is right -- and it should be, considering the Marlins' guerilla-style approach to this offseason and their lust for the potential five-tool center fielder -- Miami is the perfect fit. It's the only fit, really.
Cespedes, who can agree to terms but can't officially sign with a Major League team until he's cleared by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, sounded like a man who agreed on Wednesday.
At the airport, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel quoted him as saying: "It would be good [to play in Miami]. There are a lot of Cubans and they would support me a lot. Hopefully I can play for the Marlins."
At the ballpark, and through a translator, he told the Palm Beach Post: "I've watched the players the Marlins have signed lately, and I think this club can compete for a World Series."
A lot of teams are in the mix already, and more may jump in. But because they'll play in a shiny new ballpark, have the pieces to win now and reside in a city full of people with his heritage, it's clear the Marlins are high on Cespedes' list.
Cespedes is even higher on theirs.
"Aggressive right to the point of stupidity, but not quite there," is how club president David Samson recently described the Marlins' pursuit of Cespedes. "... As a Cuban and someone in the D.R., it makes perfect sense. We have a perfect position for him to play. It would be great."
Signing Cespedes, of course, comes with plenty of risk, especially if he commands roughly $10 million a year on a long-term contract, as expected.
Cespedes starred in Cuba, batting .333 with 33 homers and 90 RBIs in 90 games in his last season there, but hit just .143 while seeing his first action since March in the Dominican Winter League.
Scouts have had opposing views on what kind of player Cespedes projects to be -- some say Carlos Gonzalez, others believe Drew Stubbs -- but many predict he'll be more suitable as a corner outfielder, and the vast majority believe he'll need time in the Minors.
"The expectation level will be ungodly high, and this is a level he has never seen," one veteran evaluator who has watched Cespedes said. "There will be a learning curve, and the longer he takes to sign, the less time he'll have to adjust to begin the year."
Perhaps he's more Yuniesky Maya or Juan Miranda than Luis Tiant or Tony Perez. But for the Marlins, more so than any other team, he's worth the risk.
In fact, both sides need each other. Cespedes needs to play in an environment that would foster the easiest transition and the Marlins need to energize their fan base in hopes of being a sustained winner.
Building a new stadium, renaming the team Miami, bringing the fiery Ozzie Guillen in to manage, signing Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle, and even making a statement -- good or bad -- with flashy new uniforms have all been in tune with that.
Signing Cespedes would be the icing on the cake, not just because the Marlins haven't had an impact center fielder since Juan Pierre last played for them in 2005, or because the 26-year-old could give them the versatility they need in the outfield.
It's because Cespedes would strike a unique chord with the city, in much of the same way Livan Hernandez did when he was the World Series' Most Valuable Player in 1997, at age 22 and fresh out of Cuba.
It's no exaggeration. South Florida is full of Cuban-Americans (take it from one who used to live there), and the vast majority of them can relate to Cespedes' struggle -- leaving everything you ever knew behind, risking it all and coming to America in hopes of a better life.
The Marlins want their fan base to connect to this team like it never really has. Bringing in a player who could be one of the most talented Cuban products ever would be a big step in that direction, especially now that they'll play their home games in an area of town called Little Havana.
"Obviously as a Cuban playing here in Miami, it could be an interesting situation," Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest told The Miami Herald.
"I think he would be an interesting fit in this market."
The Orioles, White Sox, Cubs, Tigers, Indians and Athletics -- teams that have all been linked to Cespedes recently -- should just fold up their tents and go home.
Cespedes may have already found his.
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.