It shouldn't take a whack upside the head with a Louisville Slugger to alert teams to the appeal of Yoenis Cespedes. In these power-deprived times, any free-agent outfielder capable of hitting 35 homers and slugging .500 should be a welcome sight in the middle of a batting order.
Cespedes brings an additional "oh my gosh" factor to the proceedings with his ability to summon a Yasiel Puig, Bryce Harper or even a Bo Jackson-caliber moment during lulls in the action. His showmanship is manifested in laser throws from the warning track, home runs that intrude upon casual conversations on the outfield concourse, and a demeanor that suggests he's comfortable stepping in the batter's box in high-leverage situations (that .150 World Series batting average notwithstanding).
At age 30, a mere four years removed from his arrival in the big leagues from his native Cuba, Cespedes hits the open market amid a crowded landscape. Teams with a need for an outfield upgrade can choose among defensive whizzes Jason Heyward and Alex Gordon, slugger Chris Davis and the multitalented Justin Upton, a three-time All-Star at age 28. They all come with varied skill sets and mutual visions of nine-figure deals.
So how does an agency entrusted with representing a star player carve out a niche? In Cespedes' case, the process begins one colorfully illustrated page at a time.
As a prelude to the Hot Stove shopping season, Cespedes' representatives at the Creative Artists Agency and Roc Nation distributed a coffee table-type book to a select list of teams. The book, titled "52 Reviews" (in honor of Cespedes' jersey number), has a black-and-white cloth cover, runs about 100 pages and features laudatory comments and testimonials from managers, coaches, players, front-office executives and members of the media.
In a bow to technology, the book also has a video player embedded inside the front cover. Executives who push the "play" button are treated to an array of Yoenis Cespedes home runs, jaw-dropping throws and other highlights set to music.
The Cespedes pitch created something of a buzz at the recent general managers meetings in Boca Raton, Florida. Although ESPN.com was unable to obtain a copy of the book, several MLB executives gave it reviews that sounded like something fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.
One GM described the book as "unique, well-done and creative," while a National League executive said it was the subject of some "gawking" in his team's front office. An AL front-office man, meanwhile, wondered about the printing costs.
"It's beautifully done," the executive said. "I don't know where to start to guess at the expense involved with this. My hunch is, 5 percent of whatever [Cespedes] is going to earn is significantly more than the investment in the book."
Cespedes' representatives, who declined to reveal the cost of the book, regard it as the first step in a negotiating process that's likely to take a while.
"It's not the only piece to the puzzle," said CAA's Brodie Van Wagenen, the lead agent in Cespedes' negotiations. "Most everyone has access to the information, but the way in which you sort the information and tell the story and define the player is an art form that's unique from agent to agent. It's not just the packaging. I think this book highlights and reminds teams of what Yoenis Cespedes' rare skill set is. Instead of his agents telling people how good he is, teams can see it for themselves and hear it from unbiased, third-party insiders."
Making their pitch
The Cespedes book is yet another step in the evolution of client promotion in a roughly $10 billion industry. Scott Boras' group raised the presentation bar for years with binders chock-full of arcane stats and other information. In the winter of 2010-2011, Greg Genske and the Legacy Sports Group distributed iPads making the case for free agent Carl Crawford, who landed a $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.
The Cespedes presentation takes things a step further by marrying creativity and technology. But it leads to the inevitable debate and, in some cases, intra-industry sniping. When does the act of sharing information cross the line to a vanity project? MLB analytics departments have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, so agents are more challenged than ever to unearth statistical tidbits that will shed any light on a free agent's value.
"I don't think anybody is going to say, 'Wow, that was a really cool book -- let me go lay out $150 million for Cespedes,'" said a National League personnel man. "But the guy does have a pretty cool highlight reel."
Even the target audience for lavish promotional materials is hazy. While general managers are on the front lines, some industry observers think owners and the players themselves are most likely to be impressed. Client-poaching is so rampant among baseball agents, players need to be stroked and/or reassured that their representatives are going the extra mile.
"With each passing year, I think you're seeing agents invest more and more in packaging and marketing of players," said an assistant general manager. "They're very willing to make upfront investments against what will be near-term windfalls for their players. But I'm not sure any of us are making decisions based on printed materials.
"I think the agents are hoping these things will find a way into hands of the owners and have an impact on people who are writing the checks. And it's such a cutthroat industry, the agents want to make it 100 percent clear they're doing everything they can and more than the next guy will do."
Cespedes, with his prolific array of skills, was born to be hyped. After he defected from Cuba to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2011, his former agents at the Wasserman Media Group distributed a 20-minute video that showed Cespedes lifting massive amounts of weight, jumping on stacks of tires and performing other amazing feats of speed and strength. The video quickly made a splash on YouTube.
The past four years have been an interesting ride, to put it mildly, for the man known as "La Potencia" (or "The Power," in Spanish). In his first three seasons with Oakland, Cespedes averaged 24 homers and 87 RBIs in a challenging hitters' park before the Oakland Athletics sent him to Boston as part of a package for Jon Lester at the July 2014 non-waiver trade deadline.
Cespedes' reputation took a hit amid reports that he had exhausted the patience of some Boston coaches, and he moved on to Detroit as part of a four-player deal for Rick Porcello in December. He hit 18 homers and slugged .506 in 102 games with the Tigers before being packed off to the New York Mets at this year's trade deadline.
Cespedes was such an offensive force in August and September, some analysts touted him as a National League MVP candidate. Then the World Series rolled around, and he struggled at the plate, turned an Alcides Escobar fly ball into an inside-the-park home run in Game 1 and ran into a game-ending double play in Game 4. Several outlets speculated that an ailing shoulder contributed in part to his disappointing ending.
To those who wonder if playing for four teams in a 13-month span is a yellow caution flag, an executive with one of Cespedes' previous employers downplays the idea that he's a problem in the clubhouse. The official said Cespedes' principal transgressions ran along the lines of missing a pregame introduction and being late for the occasional hitters' meeting.
"He keeps to himself," the official said. "He's a little bit on his own program, and he has a little prima donna in him, but he's perfectly fine as a teammate. He's a good guy and he plays hard."
A crowded field
Earlier this month, when ESPN.com surveyed MLB executives and scouts for their opinions on a number of categories, Cespedes won out as the slugger of choice over Davis, who has been positioned by Boras as the prime power bat on the market this winter. While baseball number-crunchers might dismiss the notion that Cespedes makes the hitters around him better, it's hard to deny his impact in two of his previous stops.
In 2014, the Athletics went from first in the majors in runs per game with Cespedes on the roster to 25th after trading him to Boston. The Mets, in turn, went from last among the 30 MLB teams in OPS and runs per game without Cespedes to second in OPS and third in runs after acquiring him from Detroit.
"It sounds like hocus-pocus bulls---, but I do think there's something to be said for his presence in a lineup," said an NL talent evaluator. "He has a confidence factor and some swagger, and teams are afraid of his power. Ideally, he's a No. 5 hitter. But he does help a lineup."
The prime knock on Cespedes is a lack of plate discipline, as evidenced by a .319 on-base percentage in 575 career games. He swung at 39.1 percent of pitches outside the strike zone last season, according to FanGraphs, making him the 13th least selective hitter in the majors.
Still, Cespedes hits free agency with some intriguing distinctions. He's the first free agent to come off consecutive 100-plus RBI seasons since Adam Dunn in 2010, and the first free-agent outfielder coming off a 6.5 FanGraphs WAR season since Crawford signed with the Red Sox that same winter.
There's no denying that when Cespedes connects, he hits the ball with authority. According to MLB Statcast, he ranked 12th among hitters (minimum 200 at-bats) with an average exit velocity of 93.4 mph in 2015. That placed him right between Ryan Braun and Josh Donaldson.
Like his free-agent outfield peers, Cespedes will be jockeying for a seat with only so many chairs available this winter. The San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Tigers, Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Mets, San Diego Padres and Cincinnati Reds are all dabbling in the outfield market, but several of those teams are looking for lower-cost young talent or platoon types rather than big-ticket acquisitions.
Ultimately, prospective suitors will wade through the thicket of metrics and scouting reports and make their calls. Even executives who praised the CAA/Roc Nation book as an entertaining read concede it won't make much difference in how fervently (or not) their teams pursue Cespedes.
"We got a lot of positive commentary, which is satisfying," Van Wagenen said. "But more importantly, it sparked dialogue about the player's talent -- which was the original intention. And it sets up the follow-up discussions where we go into the deeper dive."
In the parlance of the business, talks are ongoing. Come contract time, Yoenis Cespedes will have to be his own best salesman.