Cespedes' history with Tigers goes back to '11
Detroit was interested in outfielder before he signed with A's
DETROIT -- Three years later, Yoenis Cespedes hadn't forgotten about the Tigers. Clearly, the Tigers hadn't forgotten about Cespedes.
When the Tigers got in touch with the Cuban outfielder by phone on the final day of the Winter Meetings, they were on opposite coasts -- the Tigers' contingent in San Diego, Cespedes at his offseason home in South Florida. Cespedes' thoughts, however, went back to the Dominican Republic.
That's where he worked out in the winter before the 2012 season, and where Tigers officials, from team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski to assistant GM Al Avila to international scouting director Tom Moore, watched him.
"He remembered us having lunch with him down there and with his family," Dombrowski said.
It's not just Cespedes. The Tigers' scouting efforts on Cuban players is quietly one of the bigger efforts of their international scouting department. So far, it hasn't yielded a signing.
Detroit hasn't signed a player out of Cuba under Dombrowski, but the team has acquired four Cuban players. In addition to trades for Cespedes and Jose Iglesias, the Tigers signed Brayan Pena as a free agent in 2012, and traded for speedy center fielder Alex Sanchez in 2003.
Cespedes is different. For many, there's a belief that he would have ended up a Tiger three years ago if not for the timing.
"I thought we had a strong chance to sign him," Dombrowski said. "We liked him a great deal."
The Tigers had no shortage of outfielders going into 2012, from Delmon Young to Brennan Boesch and Andy Dirks. They did not have an outfielder with Cespedes' athleticism. They had payroll space with contracts expired on Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.
At the time, however, Cespedes was still waiting to be granted residency in the Dominican, which he needed before progressing with paperwork in the U.S.
Had that clearance come sooner, Cespedes might well have been a Tiger. Instead, while teams were waiting, Victor Martinez blew out his knees in a mid-January workout.
A week later, Prince Fielder was a Tiger.
"That took us out of the Cespedes bidding," Dombrowski said. "We decided that Prince would give us a better chance to win right then, which he did."
Little did they expect that Cespedes would help Oakland to an American League West title and a Division Series meeting with them that October.
"I think with Cespedes, what surprised us is how well he played quickly at the Major League level," Dombrowski said. "But he did come along very quickly."
Little did anyone expect Cespedes would end up in Oakland in the first place. Though other clubs had demonstrated more interest, Cespedes signed a four-year deal with the A's over longer-term offers, taking the chance to hit free agency in his prime years.
That deal, ironically, helped set up the trades that landed Cespedes in Detroit.
Cespedes has one more year left on that original contract. The Tigers finally have at least one chance to try to win with him.
"We're happy to reunite with him," Dombrowski said.