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Yoenis Cespedes and A.J. Burnett

Two thoughts this morning:

1. The A's signed Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36-million contract, and when the news broke, I flashed back to comments that Scott Boras made about a year ago, to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, concerning the Oakland franchise:

“When teams recruit against the Oakland A’s, they say, ‘Why do you want to play in an empty park?’ It’s not about the organization. It’s not about ownership. It’s about locale.”

I believe there's significant truth to the notion that many veteran players, particularly everyday players, want no part of making The Coliseum their home. It's run down, and it's a pitcher's paradise. Veterans like Adrian Beltre, Lance Berkman and Johnny Damon (Beltre and Damon are Boras clients) have spurned offers from Oakland in recent years.

So when we talk about exploiting market inefficiencies, as we tend to do particularly when discussing A's GM Billy "Moneyball" Beane, Cespedes represents a useful inefficiency: Someone who hasn't been around the Coliseum enough to hate it.

I can't speak to how much Cespedes has communicated with current major-league players about clubs and ballparks, and certainly, Cespedes' agent Adam Katz has been around the game for a long time. But we all know the value of first-hand observation and experience, and Cespedes lacks that, much to the A's good fortune.

The Coliseum shouldn't be a scapegoat for the A's downturn of the prior five seasons; they need look only 2,900 miles southwest to see how the Rays have thrived - in a harder division, to boot - despite playing in a laughingstock of a ballpark. The A's have made their share of mistakes in the amateur draft, on the free-agent market and even in keeping around manager Bob Geren (now the Mets' bench coach) as long as they did. 

Of course Cespedes is a risk, but at the terms for which he signed - and given how many players have turned down Oakland money the last few years - he's a good risk. If he lives up to expectations, maybe he'll even make The Coliseum a little more appealing to the next batch of free agents.

2. Erik Boland and I are reporting that it appears the A.J. Burnett trade to Pittsburgh will get done by the end of the week. Which matches what pretty much everyone else is reporting.

On FanGraphs yesterday, I read this piece by Eric Seidman, which argues that Pittsburgh should trade for Burnett. I agree; for about $5 million a season for two years, Burnett is a worthwhile risk for the Pirates.

To shift into nitpicking mode, however, I disagreed with this passage: 

One of the major issues with the Burnett saga and this potential trade is that narratives get in the way of facts. By blindly trusting headlines, one would believe that Burnett is one of the worst pitchers in baseball.

First of all, I think there's some straw-man-killing going on there. I'm not sure anyone has contended that Burnett is "one of the worst pitchers in baseball." The general contention in the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best) has been a little more nuanced, specifically that Burnett is an erratic, eccentric, unintelligent, unreliable disappointment. A quite bad $82.5 million investment, in all.

Second of all, the "facts" have contributed to that narrative. The way Burnett fell apart when Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland took a leave of absence in 2010. His punching a clubhouse door in '10, and showing up with a black eye later that season. His complaining about Joe Girardi's quick hooks last year.

Being high-maintenance isn't some chatter-based cloud. It exists. If you're high-maintenance, you're causing your general manager, manager, pitching coach and teammates to work harder on your behalf.

If you're Pedro Martinez in 1999, then you can be as high-maintenance as you'd like. But if you're A.J. Burnett in 2010 and 2011? Then being so high-maintenance is going to leave a scar.

That's no narrative. That's reality.

--Stop by later for a contest.


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