By Jason Wojciechowski on December 20, 2009 at 12:35 PM
ESPN says that Coco Crisp is on the verge of coming to the A's. Where does that leave Oakland's outfield?
In my last post on the A's lineup / roster, I figured the A's outfield looked like, from left to right, Taylor-Sweeney-Hairston. (Or flip Hairston and Taylor if Taylor's a good defender.) Ken Arneson noted on Twitter that he'd prefer to have Taylor play in Sacramento for a while, then have him push either Rajai Davis or Scott Hairston out of the starting lineup. In retrospect, this seems to better match Oakland's M.O., so let's assume that the outfield as of now is Hairston-Davis-Sweeney, with the main reserve being either Travis Buck or Aaron Cunningham.
With 12 pitchers and nine starting players along with a backup catcher, that left three bench spots. One of those will be a backup infielder, ideally Gregorio Petit, but perhaps Aaron Miles. One of those will be a backup outfielder. That leaves the 25th spot up for grabs. Does Oakland, especially with a defense-oriented outfield in Sweeney and Davis, have another potential bat in Buck/Cunningham? Do they carry both Miles and Petit? Tommy Everidge? Dallas McPherson?
I don't think the addition of Coco Crisp changes that question so much as magnifies it. Now, instead of a hitting fourth outfielder, the A's will have a defense-and-running one in Crisp, since he isn't much of a hitter (.336/.378 last year). He's not a total black hole as long as you hit him low in the order, and he's a legit (albeit weak-armed) outfielder, especially in left (although he'll give you good work in center as well). He also steals bases at a good clip, although he's never done it at the volume that Rajai Davis has shown. In short, he's got a Rajai Davis bat with slightly sub-Rajai legs and defense, and he'll be playing Rajai's rightful position: left bench.
This does presumably signal that the A's really are going to be sending Michael Taylor to AAA to start the year. If you figure Taylor's going to make the major league squad, then your fourth outfielder (Davis) is already on the team.
But getting back to that 25th man, I have to assume the A's are planning on having a (potential) bat make the roster as the 25th man. If your bench is Crisp, Petit, and Miles, you've got three guys who can pinch-run for Daric Barton and Jake Fox, but no one who can pinch-hit for anyone.
On the other hand, who are we pinch-hitting for? If that last spot is one of the three aforementioned guys, are any of them better hitters than any starter? I guess there's Cliff Pennington, but Pennington's still a guy who put up a .342/.418 line in limited action last year, so it's not that clear-cut. (Translated into wOBA, that's in the Erick Aybar / Elvis Andrus range among shortstops, i.e. not great, but fine.)
Having addressed the question of what to do now that Crisp (who I'm going to be typoing as "Crips" all year long) is on the roster, he other question about is whether paying him $5M is better than paying Jack Cust a similar amount of money (and likely a little less) in the first place. The simple answer is that Crisp put up 1.2 WAR last year in just 49 games with the Royals, while Cust managed just 1.0 in the full season. That's, of course, not all there is to it. First, Cust is one of the few players the A's have had over the last few years who's been able to play every single day. That has value in, if nothing else, the cost of roster machinations -- when guys get hurt, you end up having to add other people to the roster, which ends up sometimes meaning losing players on waivers, and either way, major league pay rates are higher than minor league ones. There's also the fact that Crisp is, hopefully by June, going to be utterly redundant as Rajai Davis, Ryan Sweeney, or Scott Hairston gets pushed to the bench to make room for Michael Taylor.
On the other hand, Crisp probably makes better injury protection for the outfield than Jack Cust. If Davis, Sweeney or Hairston goes down and the A's don't want to bring Taylor up yet, Crisp brings enough to the table to not kill the A's in the absence of that starter. But if that's the rationale, then the A's must really not believe in Travis Buck and Aaron Cunningham anymore, which is a shame. Buck, after all, hit well in the majors in 2007 and in the minors in 2008 while playing very good right-field defense (at least per UZR -- he's pretty awkward out there to the eye). Cunningham, meanwhile, will still be just 24 this year, and he's hit at every minor-league stop. His major-league .271/.338 line has been compiled in a grand total of 144 plate appearances over two seasons, so it's far too early to give up on him. Who knows what the story with his defense is, but he's got 300 innings of corner outfield experience in the majors that UZR pegs as perfectly average.
But look, let's not forget: in the end, this is a guy named Coco Crisp. There has to be some value in that, right?