The 2012 Outfield Problem

In order of innings played on defense, here's a list of every outfielder the A's used in 2011.

Coco Crisp (1134)
David DeJesus (1055)
Josh Willingham (829)
Ryan Sweeney (618)
Conor Jackson (361)
Hideki Matsui (232)
Michael Taylor (83)
Jai Miller (22)
Adam Rosales (7)

See the problem? Five of the top six are no longer with the team, and the sixth is a backup outfielder with knee problems. Conor Jackson was traded to Boston in August to help them with the playoffs (ha). Crisp, DeJesus, Willingham, and Matsui are free agents, and none of the four are expected to resign with the A's. Of the remaining three outside of the top six, one is a prospect, one is a 26-year-old career minor leaguer, and one is a utility infielder.

So basically, we have to recreate an entire outfield from scratch.

The easiest spot to fill is a September callup from 2011, Michael Taylor. A former top prospect in the Phillies system, Michael Taylor was acquired by Oakland via Toronto in the tail end of the 2009 Roy Halladay/Cliff Lee blockbuster deal. He had a dismal year in Sacramento in 2010 and a mediocre one in 2011, but with his path to Oakland finally open, the A's need to earmark one of the starting corner OF spots for Taylor to see if he can make it in the majors.

But what about the other two spots? Let's get this out of the way first: Jai Miller had a .956 OPS in Sacramento, but the 37.7% K rate gives an extremely strong indicator that he won't make enough contact in Oakland to produce anything meaningful. For reference, in his final full season in AAA (2006), Jack Cust struckout at a 21.0% rate. And while Chris Carter needs playing time as well, it's pretty much a certainty that his glove won't play in the outfield.

Who else? Cot's has a list of current free agents, and there's not a lot of gems. There's a few tepidly intriguing near-retirees (Andruw Jones, Mike Cameron, JD Drew, Vladimir Guerrero), but nothing I'd really be happy with. I see two names that interest me:

Grady Sizemore. He's a 29-year-old three-time All Star who averaged nearly 7 WAR per season from 2005-2008. So why is he on the open market? The next three years weren't exactly good to him. After missing only nine games over those four years, he missed 276 from 2009-2011. Arthroscopic left elbow surgery. Surgery to fix a sports hernia. Microfracture left knee surgery. A second sports hernia surgery. The Indians declined his $8.5MM option for 2012. But what's the risk in taking a flyer on him? If he gets hurt again, the A's are out a few million dollars. If he's healthy and he performs? He has legitimate MVP upside.

Yoenis Cespedes. Okay, so he's not technically a free agent. Yet. But the 26-year-old Cuban defector is preparing to jump to the majors in 2012, and, according to scouts, he's a legitimate five-tool center fielder with tape-measure power. His agent is asking for a similar contract to Aroldis Chapman's 6 yr/$30.25MM deal. To prove his worth, he released a hilariously bizarre 20 minute scouting video on Youtube yesterday, which was sadly removed. It started with a Star Wars-style title crawl ("A NEW HOPE") followed by Sailing by Christopher Cross. Seriously. But I digress. The A's need a cheap source of elite talent, and the way baseball is set up right now, it's gotta come from international signings. Oakland has been a major player at signing international talent in recent years, and Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports reports that the A's are indeed interested in Cespedes. Landing Cespedes would be a major coup, and if Yoenis pans out, he could be a future cornerstone star when the A's open their new ballpark in a few years (right, Selig?). I'd imagine Chapman's contract price would be the starting point in the bidding for Cespedes, but $6-7MM per year is a cheap price to pay for that huge upside.

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