The A's fell short in their aggressive pursuit of Edwin Encarnacion, but they landed a very nice consolation prize Friday.
Oakland agreed to terms with Cuban right-hander Norge Ruiz on a minor league contract that reportedly included a $2 million signing bonus. Ruiz is ranked as the third-best international prospect according to mlb.com, and scouting reports suggest the 22-year-old starter could reach the majors as quickly as the upcoming season.
Ruiz's addition comes a day after Encarnacion, the top free agent still available, signed with Cleveland despite a surprising push by the A's that included an offer that went well above $20 million in annual salary.
Encarnacion agreed to a three-year $60 million contract with the Indians that includes a club option for a fourth season. Multiple reports indicated that the A's didn't go past two years with their offer. But Encarnacion's agent, Paul Kinzer, told MLB Network Radio that the A's offered more money in terms of average annual value.
"Billy Beane, when he decided to play poker, he came all in," Kinzer said. "He came in and made it really tough, he threw out some Cespedes-type offers, you know, with higher AAV, and Edwin turned down more money (from the A's). But it wasn't anything against Oakland. With Edwin it's more about comfort, and the travel, and his family's in the Dominican. That weighed heavily in his decision. It came down to location and the type of team Cleveland has. He just played them in the playoffs. He knows the quality of team they had."
Kinzer didn't specify what he meant in terms of "Cespedes-type offers." But Cespedes signed a four-year $110 million deal with the New York Mets in November, which comes out to $27.5 million annually. If the A's truly were in the ballpark of offering "Cespedes" money, as Kinzer suggests, it stands to reason they may have approached that figure in terms of annual salary over two years.
Beane, the A's executive vice president of baseball operations, and general manager David Forst were both unavailable for comment.
It's eye-opening though that the A's would extend such a financial offer to anyone, especially given that Beane has said he believes the A's might be a year or two away from truly contending again in the American League West. The biggest contract given out in franchise history was the six-year $66 million deal that Eric Chavez signed in 2004, which averages out to $11 million per season.
But Encarnacion, who turns 34 in January, has been among the majors' best sluggers, averaging 39 homers and 110 RBI over the past five seasons. Kinzer told MLB Network Radio that Beane stressed that, should the A's sign Encarnacion, they weren't intending to immediately flip him in a trade this summer.
"He made it clear it was not a sign-and-trade," Kinzer said. "He wanted him to build around and he had a vision that Edwin could come in and help get them to (contention) quicker."
Now the A's focus, presumably, will return to finding the starting center fielder they so badly need. They held trade talks with the Kansas City Royals regarding Jarrod Dyson during the winter meetings. If they're to sign a free agent, Austin Jackson and Rajai Davis are among the top targets on the open market.
The A's did corral a quality pitching prospect in Ruiz, a right-hander who went 24-17 with a 2.55 ERA in 60 games (55 starts) in Cuba's Serie Nacional, the country's top professional league.
"We like him a lot," said A's assistant GM Dan Feinstein, who heads up the A's international scouting. "He has the ingredients of a quality major league starting pitcher. Average fastball, plus at times. Very good feel for an above average changeup."
An mlb.com scouting report says Ruiz's fastball touches 94 miles per hour and generally sits 90-92. In addition to his changeup, he also throws a slider, cutter and split-fingered fastball, and inducing grounders is a key to his success.