Just as the A's anticipated when signing the Cuban outfielder to a four-year, $36 million deal, manager Bob Melvin announced Monday morning that Cespedes will start the season in center field. One of the game's best center fielders, Coco Crisp, shifts to left.
It marked the first definitive statement from Melvin that Cespedes will travel with the team to Japan and appear on the Opening Day roster, sandwiched between Crisp and right fielder Josh Reddick.
"I think that's what we go with for the time being," Melvin said. "Cespedes is more comfortable in center, Reddick is comfortable in right. To maneuver that all around would be difficult."
However, the A's skipper noted that the makeup of the outfield is not set in stone past Japan, allowing the club time to continue evaluating Cespedes in center field during the exhibition games that follow in order to assess his readiness for its home opener in the United States on April 6.
But Cespedes is likely to stay put through that time, so long as he continues to make adjustments and fare well defensively and at the plate. Entering Monday, he had just three hits in 17 at-bats (.176 average), with six strikeouts.
Adjustments will have to be made by Crisp, too. Though he was forced to make the same move seven years ago while with Cleveland when Grady Sizemore was handed the Indians' center-field job, he said this transition will be "tough." He's played 1,011 games in the big leagues, 216 in left.
"Coco's versatility probably works against him in this respect, yet I still feel like Coco is one of the best center fielders in the game," Melvin said. "He was a pro about it. He certainly wants to play center field. It's not going to be an issue for us, but pride does certainly factor in for a guy like that, and I don't blame him for being a little disappointed."
At the start of camp, before Cespedes even arrived, Crisp publicly stated he wouldn't be in favor a switch. But when approached about it Monday, following his discussion with Melvin, he was understanding of the team's decision.
"I was a little hurt, obviously," Crisp said. "It's a humbling conversation. I don't think that you take it well. You try to take it as best you can. Whenever you hear something you don't want to hear, it's hard, so I'm just trying to deal with the news as best as I can and try not to let it be a distraction.
"Different outcomes end up happening and I think they feel like this is best for the team, and I'm all for what's best for the team. So if I can go out and play a Gold Glove left field, I'm going to try to do the best I can."
In center field, the ball reads more true, Crisp said. In the corner, he'll have to again familiarize himself with different angles from which the ball comes off the bat. The 32-year-old veteran took fly balls at the position Monday and admitted it felt "different, weird."
"I just have to recalibrate myself and makes sure I take the right routes," he said. "I think once I learn how to do that, that's half the battle, and catching is the other half."
Though Crisp mentioned he'll have to remind himself he's no longer the leader of the outfield having shed himself of center-field duties, the A's likely would say otherwise. Cespedes, 26, and Reddick, 25, will rely heavily on the experienced Crisp to head the communication department.
Cespedes, through translator Ariel Prieto, said he's eager to learn from Crisp, and though "happy and excited" about maintaining his home in center field, relayed much respect to Crisp for obliging with the move and said he would do the same if the team ever asked.