Yoenis Céspedes to play for Cuba in 2023 WBC

One of the biggest ‘What if?’ questions A’s fans can ask themselves over the past couple decades remains – ‘What if they never traded Yoenis Céspedes for Jon Lester?’

Back in 2014, Oakland was in the midst of a special season. Beginning on April 24, they vaulted into first place of the American League West and stayed there until mid-August, buoyed by six All-Stars. Céspedes, Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Scott Kazmir and Sean Doolittle all made the AL roster for the Midsummer Classic, giving the A’s their biggest representation since sending seven players in 1975.

Pretty much everything was working in July. The A’s bolstered the already impressive pitching staff – led by Kazmir and Sonny Gray – by acquiring Jeff Samardzija from the Chicago Cubs. It seemed like the starters were always putting up numbers, even if it was Jesse Chavez, Tommy Milone or Drew Pomeranz on the mound.

Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick were fan favorites in the outfield at the peak of their powers. The lineup was producing major runs and Céspedes was the middle of it, a feared hitter who had just won his second straight Home Run Derby title.

It wasn’t broken but Billy Beane tried to fix it, sending Céspedes to the Red Sox for Lester and Jonny Gomes. The juice from the lineup was gone. Most importantly, the fear of having prime Céspedes in the No. 3 hole had disappeared, as the subsequent rotation with Gomes, Moss and Sam Fuld didn’t quite have the same bite in left field.

While Lester fared well (2.35 ERA in 11 starts) with Oakland during the stretch run, he will ultimately be remembered by A’s fans for giving up five runs in seven innings of that gut-punching loss to the Kansas City Royals in the 2014 Wild Card game. The A’s hit the reset button the following year as Céspedes played out the final season of his four-year, $36 million contract from Oakland.

Céspedes thrived with the Red Sox, then the Detroit Tigers and New York Mets, making another All-Star team in 2016. He faded in the following years and was hampered by injuries, before making an unceremonious and unannounced exit from the team during COVID-shortened 2020 season. But A’s fans will always have a soft spot for the explosive outfielder.

Now it’s 2023 and the 37-year-old Céspedes is still playing ball. According to reporter Francys Romero, Céspedes is traveling to Taiwan to join Cuba for its upcoming games in the World Baseball Classic.

Céspedes got warmed up in the Dominican Republic Winter Leagues recently, playing in 18 games with powerhouse Aguilas. But he didn’t look too hot in his first professional action in a while, slashing .188/.239/.406 with four homers and 11 RBIs.

He did mash a couple of homers in the same game though.

Céspedes remains the WBC’s all-time leader with three career triples, all of which came during his six-games with the squad in 2009. Céspedes joins a Team Cuba roster that also features White Sox stars Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert, though some of the country’s top talents like Yordan Álvarez, Jose Abreu and Yuli Gurriel have opted out, along with A’s infielder Aledmys Díaz. Cuba will play a couple of local teams in Taiwan before opening their WBC slate against the Netherlands on Wednesday.

Unless you plan on going to Latin winter leagues anytime soon, this might be the last chance we get to see Céspedes play some high-level baseball.