Any chance of free agent outfielder Yoenis Cespedes signing with the White Sox were seemingly all but shot down Thursday by the Washington Nationals’ reported five-year, nine-figure offer for the Cuban star.
Needing to add offense to their lineup and defense to their outfield, the Sox have been nonetheless willing to offer no more than three years for Cespedes, even though signing him wouldn’t cost draft-pick compensation.
Cespedes’ bat helped carry the Mets into the 2015 postseason and he is considered a good corner outfield defender, but he has probably lasted this long on the free agent market – pitchers and catchers report to spring training in four weeks – because of makeup concerns shared throughout the industry.
“He doesn’t put any effort into his defense,’’ a National League scout told the Sun-Times. “He’s an immensely talented guy but he’s moody and he’s no factor whatsoever in the clubhouse. He can throw, but there’s the effort.
“When you’re looking to make an investment of 100 million dollars you want some guarantees.’’
That said, Cespedes, 30, is a big talent with power, speed and strong arm who will get paid. He’s a middle-of-the-order difference maker — who has played for four teams in five years. But the Sox aren’t believed to offering a better deal than what the Nationals reportedly have on the table. And if he weighs shorter-term deals, the Mets would have the inside track.
In recent weeks, the Sox’ perceived interest in Cespedes, along with a willingness to spend big may have been overstated. Whatever interest general manager Rick Hahn has in other outfield options such as free agent Dexter Fowler, or at shortstop in free agent Ian Desmond, have been kept private. It also isn’t known if Hahn is ready to give up this soon on 24-year-old Avisail Garcia in right field, but there’s little doubt the 2015 setup with Garcia and Melky Cabrera in the corners shapes up as a defensive liability. Trade possibilities also remain in play, with the Colorado Rockies and — if Cespedes goes to Washington – the Nationals looming as possibilities having a surplus of valuable players at the position.
The Sox did make a move to keep their bullpen intact Thursday, re-signing right-hander Matt Albers, one of manager Robin Ventura’s most reliable bullpen options late last season. Albers will receive $2 million in 2016, while the Sox hold a $3-million option for 2017 with a $250,000 buyout.
Albers, 33, went 2-0 with a 1.21 ERA and 28 strikeouts over 37 1/3 innings during his first season with the So. He was on the disabled list from April 20-July 15 with a broken right pinky finger, a freak accident suffered during the Sox’ bench-clearing brawl with the Kansas City Royals. Albers posted a 1.14 ERA in the second half, the lowest mark in the American League among relief pitchers and pitched 22 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings over his final 20 appearances.
The Sox bullpen appears to shape up well as comprised with closer David Robertson, right-handers Nate Jones, Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam and Albers and left-handers Zach Duke and Dan Jennings. Daniel Webb will also compete for a job during spring training, and right-hander Tommy Kahnle was acquired from the Colorado Rockies in November. Kahnle (4.86 ERA) averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings last season.