In an interview with the Associated Press, center fielder and Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes excluded the Nationals from a list of potential suitors once his paperwork to attain a visa and become a free agent processes.
Thursday night, Cespedes debuted in the Dominican Winter League for Aguilas Cibaenas, going 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a hit by pitch. Cespedes told the AP he has received the most interest from the Marlins, Cubs, White Sox, Orioles, Tigers and Indians.
The fact that Cespedes, a 26-year-old power hitter who could play in the majors right away, did not name the Nationals does not mean Washington will not be in play. The Nationals have tracked Cespedes for years and this winter General Manager Mike Rizzo traveled to the Dominican to watch him play in person. The Nationals need a center fielder and could be particularly interested in Cespedes
Fielder if they do not sign free agent first baseman Prince Fielder.
If the Nationals do bid on Cespedes, their stiffest competition would likely come from the Marlins, who covet Cespedes for his ability and the connection he would forge with Miami’s Cuban population.
Marlins President David Samson told Miami radio station 790 The Ticket yesterday that “we think he’s a perfect fit for us, but it has to be sane. [We’ve] been expressing interest, going to visit, making it very clear to his representatives and to him and his family that we think he should not be anywhere other than Miami. As a Cuban and someone in the DR, it makes perfect sense.”
Cespedes will likely sign a contract that exceeds the $30 million deal Cuban reliever Aroldis Chapman received from the Cincinnati Reds before the 2010 season, and his deal could approach $50 million. He should officially become a free agent by the end of January.
The Nationals have also kept their eye on 19-year-old center fielder Jorge Soler, another Cuban defector currently biding his time in the Dominican (although not playing winter ball). Soler would require a year or two in the minors, but he may have more upside than Cespedes.