Detroit — There are a lot of questions with Yoenis Cespedes. Where will he hit in the Tigers lineup? Will his sagging on-base percentage improve if he's hitting in front of, say, Miguel Cabrera? Will he bring his Lamborghini to the Motor City?
But one question that Cespedes and the Tigers want shot down is a question of character.
An October report by Bill Madden of the New York Daily News quoted anonymous Red Sox sources saying Cespedes "marches to his own drum, and the coaches all hate him."
Those were some eye-opening, if not cowardly, comments from Boston, where Cespedes had only played since late July, after coming over from Oakland in the Jon Lester deal.
They caught a lot of people by surprise. And Cespedes was among them.
When he heard about it, he immediately picked up the phone, called Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington and asked him what the heck was going on.
"I didn't know what they were talking about," Cespedes said, through a translator, Thursday at Comerica Park as the Tigers Winter Carvan kicked off. "They met with the coaches and everything, and the report, to clear it up. But it wasn't true."
And the Tigers believe it's not true.
They've long done their homework on Cespedes, dating back to before he signed with the A's.
"He never had any issues," said Al Avila, Tigers assistant general manager.
Nick Castellanos and Joe Nathan serve it up for the fans.
The Tigers' interest in Cespedes goes back to the 2011-12 offseason, when Cespedes, a Cuban defector, was ready to sign with a major-league team. Detroit was at the forefront of the interest all winter long, to the point Avila said the Tigers even started negotiations.
"We would've signed him," Avila said.
But in January, Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez blew out his knee, doctors said he'd miss the entire 2012 season, so the Tigers reversed course.
Instead of Cespedes, they signed Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214 million deal, so Cespedes went to the A's on a four-year, $36 million contract.
"Prince Fielder was an established player, and Cespedes hadn't played a game in the big leagues," said Avila, who, along with general manager Dave Dombrowski and scouting lieutenants David Chadd, Miguel Garcia and Tom Moore, traveled to the Dominican Republic to check out Cespedes three years ago. "We were very interested."
The feeling, it turns out, was quite mutual.
"There was a lot of interest with the Tigers, but it didn't work out," Cespedes said.
So Cespedes went to Oakland, slipped right into the A's lineup and had a monster year that even surprised the Tigers, batting .292/.356/.505 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs while finishing a distant runner-up to the Angels' Mike Trout in American League rookie of the year voting.
The past two years, the average and on-base percentage have dipped, but his power production has not. Last year with Oakland and Boston, he had 22 homers and 100 RBIs.
That's a mighty fine addition to a Tigers lineup that already has Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler and J.D. Martinez.
"Right now, this is the best lineup in the game," Cespedes said. "Every year this team has been really successful, so this is the year for the final push."
Manager Brad Ausmus said if Cespedes can replace Torii Hunter's production in the lineup, it'll be a win for the Tigers. This is certain: Cespedes will more than replace Hunter in the outfielder. Cespedes plays left field and, while his range isn't the best, he has a cannon of an arm, as evidenced by the highlight-reel throw from the outfield wall to home last season.
As for where he'll hit in the lineup, Cespedes said he doesn't particularly care. The options seem to be sixth, behind J.D. Martinez, or second, ahead of Miguel Cabrera. Ausmus hasn't settled on a second hitter yet.
"If you can score from first on a Miggy double, you can bat second," he quipped Thursday, during a Winter Caravan stop at Lipari foods in Warren.
The question is whether Cespedes has the OBP you'd want from a No. 2 hitter. It was barely over .300 last year, but hitting in front of Cabrera and Victor Martinez can't hurt.
"I'm looking forward to playing with them," Cespedes said.
"Here to perform"
Cespedes, like most of the Tigers on Thursday, was bundled up. He's not used to this weather. In fact, Thursday was the first time he'd seen snow. No surprise, then, asked if he'll bring his Lamborghini to Detroit, he looked out the windows and said, "I don't think so."
That's fine with the Tigers. They traded for the slugger, not the car.
Cespedes is entering the final year of his contract. He said there were some early discussions with the Red Sox about an extension, but those didn't go anywhere fast — and most certainly were killed when the Daily News report came out.
If the Tigers want to pick up the phone and call Jay-Z, his agent, Cespedes is cool with that.
"If that's an option," he said. "I'm just here to perform and play my best for the team."
The Tigers acquired Cespedes in early December, in the waning hours of the Winter Meetings.
Detroit needed corner-outfield offense, and Boston desperately needed starting pitching. They were a trade fit since November, and the trigger finally got pulled in San Diego, the Tigers getting Cespedes and reliever Alex Wilson in exchange for starting pitcher Rick Porcello.
Cespedes said the deal didn't shock him. Not nearly as much as the one last July, anyway.
"I'm very, very happy to be with this team. I'm excited for the season to start," he said. "I couldn't picture myself with any other team."