Amazingly, Cespedes (and the A's) are better than we thought

Yoenis Cespedes is a huge reason why the A's are in line for a playoff spot. (Getty Images)

NEW YORK -- Yoenis Cespedes was never going to live up to the hype.

Except that he has.

It was crazy to compare Yoenis Cespedes to Bo Jackson.

Except that you can.

"My worry is that someone in the NFL will want him as a halfback," A's owner Lew Wolff said Friday.

"I could see that," said Josh Reddick. "He could grab the ball and run over half the guys."

He could, couldn't he?

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In this A's season of amazing stories and even more amazing results, Cespedes is the A's player most likely to make you go, "Wow!"

Even if you're having an MVP-type year yourself.

"Miguel Cabrera gave me a 'Wow' the other day in Detroit," A's third-base coach Mike Gallego said. "I said, 'This guy's going to be good.' He said, 'Going to be?'"

He is good. All the A's people insist that he's going to be better.

Already, he's so good that the A's are 30 games over .500 in games he starts -- and nine games under .500 in games he doesn't.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, as of Friday there were only four other players whose teams were 30 games over .500 with them in the lineup: Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa of the Nationals, Brandon Phillips of the Reds and Adrian Beltre of the Rangers.

Cespedes isn't going to win the Most Valuable Player award this year, but he probably ought to make some ballots. And remember, he's getting better.

"I think he's still learning how to hit," Gallego said.

When the A's front office convinced Wolff last winter that Cespedes was worth a $36 million gamble, the thought was that he might or might not need to spend part of this year in Triple-A. He didn't.

The thought was that he might spend a year adjusting to seeing major-league breaking balls, adjusting to a major-league schedule and to living outside Cuba. He hasn't.

The season may be getting a little long for him now. In Cuba, a full season was just 90 games. But A's people say that Cespedes seems to be feeding on the adrenaline of the pennant race. They say that he has gotten better and better at recognizing breaking balls.

"You could never have predicted the adjustments he has made," A's assistant general manager Dave Forst said.

Really, what could you have predicted? Cespedes was an internet sensation last winter, after a wild YouTube video of his workouts in the Dominican Republic. Seemingly every team in baseball was interested, and seemingly everyone was surprised to see the A's commit $36 million on just a four-year contract.

Other teams worried that with the time it might take Cespedes to adjust, four years wasn't enough for a Cespedes deal to pay off. The A's figured that four years might work, because if Cespedes proved by then that he was worth more money, they might have a new stadium in place or on the way, and might be able to afford it.

They also knew that if Cespedes had been a sure thing, there's no way they could have afforded him now.

"We knew that it's rare we have a chance to sign someone with that talent," Forst said.

They also knew that they had just committed $14 million to another center fielder, Coco Crisp. But when they took the plan to Wolff, he quickly OK'd the offer.

"I said yes right away," he said. "With the work they put in, and the people who saw him play, it was a very solid case."

The case is so much easier to make now, with most of Cespedes' first season behind us. The case is so much easier to make, now that with Cespedes in the lineup, the A's have been transformed into a playoff team.

The day the A's signed him, I asked one A's official to explain it to me.

"Look," he finally said. "We're not trying to finish in last place."

They're not going to finish in last place. They still could finish in first place.

And Yoenis Cespedes?

He's better than any of us thought. He makes you go "Wow" when you watch him play baseball.

And he makes you imagine how he'd do playing football.

"Him and Mike Trout," A's pitcher Brett Anderson said. "They could both play free safety."

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