The A's added another twist to their curious offseason Monday, agreeing to a four-year, $36 million contract with Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes.
Cespedes -- hyped as having excellent power, good speed and a strong arm -- was considered the top hitter on the international market this winter. But he couldn't be signed until he established residency in the Dominican Republic after defecting from Cuba.
Cespedes, 26, still needs to obtain a worker's visa and pass a physical before his deal is completed. His agent, Adam Katz, would not speculate on whether Cespedes will be in training camp when A's position players report Feb. 24. Pitchers and catchers report Saturday.
The A's hope they finally have filled a need for a young power-hitting outfielder. The right-handed Cespedes hit 33 homers in 90 games last season in the Cuban National Series, Cuba's premier league. He hit .458 in six games during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
"This kid is a physical presence," A's player personnel director Billy Owens told MLB Network Radio. "We've actually scouted him the last four or five years in international competition, and he blows you away with sheer physicality, running speed, the power potential."
A's general manager Billy Beane declined to comment on Cespedes.
It is unknown whether the A's will thrust him into the opening day lineup or give him time in the minors.
Their projected outfield, left to right, is Seth Smith,
As recently as Sunday, the Miami Marlins were considered the favorite to sign Cespedes. The Cubs, Indians, Orioles, Tigers and White Sox also reportedly were in the hunt.
But the A's swept in with a contract that will pay him $6.5 million this season, $8.5 million in 2013 and $10.5 million in both 2014 and 2015, making him their highest-paid player in annual salary and total contract value.
"Miami was a great visit ... but the A's were for me," Cespedes told mlb.com.
His addition adds to a perplexing winter for the A's. They traded All-Star pitchers Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey, trimming salary and stockpiling prospects as part of a rebuilding effort.
Yet in recent weeks, they have shown interest in signing 39-year-old Manny Ramirez, who wouldn't even be able to play until serving a 50-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's drug policy a second time.
Now the A's are throwing big money at Cespedes, whom Baseball America's Jim Callis said would rank from seventh to 15th on his list of top major league prospects.
It is tough to gauge how Cespedes might fare based on the history of Cuban players who have defected and played in the majors.
Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez won a Silver Slugger award in 2010 and has turned in four solid seasons. On the other hand, the A's drafted right-hander Ariel Prieto in the first round in 1995, but he never lived up to expectations, going 15-24 with a 4.85 ERA over six seasons with Oakland and Tampa Bay.
One major league scout, who requested anonymity, said the news of the A's getting Cespedes "came out of nowhere."
"Obviously he's a gifted athlete," the scout said. "It remains to be seen what he does on the field."
There is no indication that signing Cespedes would keep the A's from pursuing Ramirez as a designated hitter. The A's also are looking at relievers and have been linked in trade speculation to the Texas Rangers' Koji Uehara and reportedly have had discussions with free agent Mike Gonzalez.