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Today's question comes to us from AN'er "istilllikejoerudibest" (dated Dec 3):
"I understand signing Rosales. When healthy he's a serviceable utility player. But I just can't understand re-signing Daric Barton. If player stats tend toward the mean over time, there is no hope of him having offensive numbers worthy of a shortstop, catcher, second baseman on a weak hitting team. But he plays first base. Isn't there anyone else who could benefit from a season at AAA playing first base? He isn't going to be a contributor in Oakland."
Let's play a game of word association. I'll say a word or phrase, and you say the first thing that comes to mind. Ready?
What did that make you think of? If you asked a hundred different A's fans, you would probably get a hundred different answers, ranging from "garbage" to "OBP" to "underrated" to "Gold Glove snub" to "Don't dive in the shallow end." He is one of the most polarizing players to pass through Oakland in years. When I went to see the film Lincoln, I was surprised to discover that the main cause of the Civil War wasn't slavery, but rather a disagreement over whether Barton's defense was valuable enough to offset his lack of power. Thousands died. For that reason, we aren't going to discuss Barton in this column at all. Not even in the comments. I don't want anyone to get hurt.
Actually, there is one objective fact that must be raised. On November 30, Barton avoided arbitration (and/or release) by signing a $1.1M contract for 2013. The contract is non-guaranteed, so if Barton doesn't make the team out of Spring Training then it is possible he may be released rather than go back to Sacramento. Actually, I find it very unlikely that he'll go back to Sacramento in any scenario; he'll either make the Opening Day roster, or seek employment in another organization which can offer him playing time. This sort of feels like the last chance for Barton in Oakland.
But look at me, talking about Barton again. I promised I wouldn't do that. I promised we wouldn't do that. So, let's not mention his name for the rest of the post. Regardless of whether He-Who-Shan't-Be-Named returns to the fold, someone will have to play first base for Sacramento next year. If not The Blessed And/Or Cursed One, then whom? Let's take a look through the organization. We'll begin by ruling some guys out. (Note: For the rest of the post, I will be working under the assumption that, between Brandon Moss and Chris Carter, first base is covered at the Major League level in 2013.)
According to the Sacramento River Cats official site, there were four players listed as first basemen last year: Chris Carter, Kila Ka'aihue, Wes Timmons, and That Guy. Carter is currently in the Majors with Oakland, Kila signed with Arizona as a minor-league free agent as part of the Annual Oakland/Arizona Player Swap Quota, and Timmons is actually a 34-year-old substitute teacher (but with a heart of gold!).
The same exercise on the Midland Rockhounds site rules out a couple of departed players: Matt Rizzotti and Michael Spina, neither of whom I've ever heard of. With those guys out of the way, here is a list of players who could see time at first base in Sacramento, if such playing time were available:
Head played in 57 games for AA Midland last year, and I think it's safe to say that he will remain there to begin the season. Although he held his own, he's got a bit of work to do before he advances to AAA. He'll only be 22 next year, so he's got plenty of time to develop, but there's absolutely a possibility that he could see time in Sacramento before the end of 2013. Furthermore, when Head is ready for a promotion, Oakland will probably do whatever is necessary to clear space for him up the ladder.
Peterson exploded on the scene in Sacramento last season, triple-slashing .389/.484/.618 in about 150 PA's with good plate discipline (23:31 K:BB). The Midland roster had him listed as a first basemen, but I've always heard of him as an outfielder. Peterson figures to be a key member of the River Cats this year, and could even make an appearance in Oakland at some point if things go well for him. However, I would expect him to get his at-bats in the outfield, as the only other returning outfielder from last year's Sacramento team is Michael Taylor. That said, if the A's come up with a couple of Moss-like outfield projects, it's nice to know that Peterson has the flexibility to move to first if needed.
Aliotti, a 15th-round pick in 2009, played a full season for Midland last year. The left-hander was 24, and he put up a line of .292/.385/.426. Hmm, that line sort of reminds me of another first baseman who I promised not to talk about again in this article. Except Aliotti also strikes out in about a third of his plate appearances. That is everything that I know about Aliotti, and he seems like a clone of The Nameless One who makes less contact and is old for his league. But wait, he was drafted out of St Mary's College!
No, never mind, it's a different one in Michigan. (Nope, I was right the first time: Aliotti played for the Gaels)
Montz was recently signed as a minor-league free agent. He's listed as a C/1B, but his offensive stats suggest that he's a catcher. At least, I hope he is, for his sake. To his credit, he did hit 29 homers last year as a 28-year-old in AAA. I mean, that's better than not hitting 29 homers.
Moore played for the Astros last year. No wait, hear me out! Here, I'll re-phrase it a bit. Moore played in the Majors in the state of Texas last year. There, that sounds more encouraging. He actually put up a 110 OPS+ in 228 plate appearances while playing 5 different positions, but Houston let him go because they have all those other awesome players who they need to make room for. Granted, that was Moore's first real Major-League success, but it was also his most prolonged trial and it came on the heels of a positively Moss-like half-season in AAA (.318/.410/.555, after 5 years of putting up approximately an .800 OPS at that level).
Although Moore was probably signed as depth at 3rd base, the River Cats already have a lot of bodies on the left side of the infield. Eric Sogard, Josh Horton, Stephen Parker, and possibly Adam Rosales all figure to get at-bats at shortstop and/or third, so it seems possible that Moore could get some time at 1st base just to get everyone in the lineup. The 29-year-old bats left-handed, and has also played 2nd, left, and right at the Major League level.
That's about all that Oakland has left in the cupboard. These days, first base is looking like a bit of an organizational weakness at the higher levels of the minors. Of course, Chris Carter could render that meaningless by putting up a decade of high-octane offense in Oakland, but there isn't really much of a back-up plan in the system if he and Moss falter. If the position is up for grabs in AAA, I could see Aliotti getting the nod just to see if he has a future, with Head taking up the reins mid-season when he's ready to be promoted. Or, if Aliotti is a non-factor in the organization, then I could see Montz and/or Moore keeping the spot warm for Head.
Either way, it doesn't look like there are any great prospects in danger of being blocked in the first half of 2013. Suddenly, Barton isn't looking like such a bad option to keep stashed in Sacramento. Crap, I said his name again.