A’s Outfield Situation: Who Stays and Who Goes?


June 20, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics left fielder Seth Smith (15) makes the catch ahead of center fielder Coco Crisp (4) against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fifth inning at O.co Coliseum. The Oakland Athletics defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Oakland did not make it to the World Series this year, there are still many reasons for the team, city, and their fans to feel pretty good about their season as a whole, and optimistic of the team‘s coming seasons.

It was an amazing run.  One that saw a group pegged as nothing more than a fourth or fifth place team over-come that bias and work as some weird, quirky, yet cohesive unit that put together an impressive ninety-four wins.

Last season’s magical run was the preceded by a busy off-season, one that saw many A’s fans scratching their heads in reaction to the teams dealings, trades, and acquisitions.  Mainly, when Oakland traded away Gio Gonzalez to the Washington Nationals, gave outfielder Coco Crisp a lofty contract extension (two years worth fourteen million with an option for the 2014 season), and sent Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox.

Also contributing to the further speculation of the direction the team was going was Yoenis Cespedes, the highly touted Cuban defector who looks more like a tight-end than a baseball player.  He signed with Oakland on a four year, thirty-six million dollar contract, which included a five million dollar signing bonus.  This move baffled many, because his numbers weren’t even very impressive in his Cuban league, despite him being a top physical specimen.  I mean sure, the guy could lift weights that had other human beings on them with his legs and run sprints like Rickey (Henderson).  But would all that raw talent translate to the show?  Absolutely:

  • Finishing the season batting .292 with twenty-three long-balls and eighty-two driven in, the rook delivered.  So much so, Cespedes came in second place in the AL Rookie Of The Year voting (though with Mike Trout it wasn‘t even close), and was tenth in the MVP race as well.  An .861 OPS doesn’t hurt either.

Another strange move was when the team signed free agent Manny Ramirez to a minor league contract.  Needless to say, that didn’t pan out.

But what did pan out was Josh Reddick, the blue chip in the Andrew Bailey trade.  Dubbed “Spiderman”, 2012 saw Reddick turn in by far his best major league season, both as a hitter and in the outfield.  It was the first time he had played more than eighty-seven games (he played in all but six games during the regular season) in his career, and despite his low batting average (.242), his power numbers were exceptional:

  • Out of his one-hundred and forty-eight hits, he blasted thirty-two home-runs, drove in eighty-five, and collected twenty-nine doubles.  All career highs.  He struck out a lot, one-hundred and fifty-one times in fact.  But he also walked fifty-five times, and had an OPS of .768.  So when he actually hit the ball, he made it count, and when he wasn‘t swinging and missing, he could work the count.  He also finished sixteenth in the AL MVP voting, and was awarded his first Gold Glove.

These two great additions to the outfield un-questioningly bolstered the teams offense and helped guide the team towards October baseball.  But right now, there is a log-jam in the outfield.  Trading away Colin Cowgill to the New York Mets helps, and with Cespedes, Reddick, and Crisp, you have your every day starters.  However, the team also brought in Seth Smith from the Colorado Rockies prior to the 2012 season, and have recently acquired Chris Young from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The club also has twenty-seven year old Michael Taylor waiting in the wings, although his brief appearance last season sure didn’t turn any heads, as he collected only three hits over twenty-one at bats, striking out ten times.

Between Smith and Young, it looks like Smith had the better season in 2012:

  • Over one-hundred and twenty-five games, Smith finished the season batting .240, the lowest of his career.  However, as batting average is not always indicative of a players hitting ability, he did provide some decent power for acting as a platoon in the out-field, and gave Oakland a solid fourteen long balls and fifty-two RBI.  Over his career, he’s averaged  fourteen to fifteen homers a season, and that’s just what he did for his new club this time around.

Young’s season wasn’t necessarily bad, by his standards, but it sure doesn’t impress:

  • He finished the season batting .231, the second to lowest average of his career. The power is definitely there for Young.  He’s an every other year type of player, but (depending on if he’s healthy or not) he can be counted on to give his team twenty to twenty-five home-runs, score around eighty runs, and drive in anywhere from fifty to eighty in a season.  He just hasn’t reached his full potential, and based on his age (29), he’s in the zenith of his career.  With that in mind, 2013 in Oakland may provide a fresh new start for the young out-fielder, who has the potential to be a very solid bat in the order.

One thing that is for sure, is that having Young in the order as opposed to Smith is a better option because of the speed and range he brings to the equation.  We know what Smith can do, and to his credit has been very consistent with his production over the years.  But as stated previously, Young has the potential to do better; he is younger (if only by a year), faster, and has demonstrated greater power than Smith has when comparing both player’s numbers, albeit not in a consistent pattern.

I like the idea of keeping the out-field the way it is, with Smith and Young in a platoon/occasional starting role, but anything is possible come Spring Training.  And there are many options, as playing in the American League, teams have the distinct advantage of keeping their biggest bats in the order, while cycling in fresh legs for defensive purposes every few days:

  • Thanks to the DH spot, Cespedes or Reddick could easily slide over and assume the position to give Young more playing time, and keep speed in the outfield.  With Young and Crisp, the team has two solid fielders who have always been in the upper percentiles of out-fielders.  In fact, they are very close in numbers, and the two own career .989 (Young) and .991 (Crisp) fielding percentages.

Having too many players is never a bad thing, though, and it gives the team some solid options in the out-field.  But, if it were up to me, and Young plays to the best of his abilities, my starting outfield would be; Reddick, Young, and Crisp, with Cespedes doing the designated hitting, and having Smith in there off the bench.

All things are possible, but above all else, the team deserves to feel more than confident going into the 2013 season.

With October baseball still fresh in their minds, and just missing out on the World Series, the club is primed to change the culture for the better in the city of Oakland.