The First Base Black Hole

The A's, in my view, have done a pretty decent job of spreading out their acquisitions so as not to create any major logjams. I mean, it's not like they used Cahill and Gio to acquire a bunch of second base prospects. For the most part, the core position players look promising at nearly every position on the diamond, except with one massive gap.

Currently, there is not one first baseman in the A's organization who projects to be an above average regular. The candidates:

Daric Barton - Major up-and-down career thus far (with more downs than ups) and he is only under team control through 2014, and he could start to get expensive if he produces.

Chris Carter - Serious questions about his bat, but there is a lot of upside remaining. The problem is that his defense is so bad that he's looking like a DH at best.

Brandon Allen - Massive minor league stats, but contact issues that showed up in a big way last season in the majors and might not go away.

Miles Head - I think it speaks to the dearth of first basemen in the system that Miles Head of all people, who will likely be in Stockton to begin the year, is probably the best first base prospect we have. He is a stocky 21 year old with good power, but he's very far away and a long shot to be a major leaguer.

The rest of the diamond looks good, organizationally.

Catcher - Derek Norris. Max Stassi could also be up at some point in a few years as a plus plus defensive catcher.

2B - Jemile Weeks

3B - Sizemore

SS - Pennington? The A's are pretty light here as well, but good shortstops are really hard to come by. I really REALLY want the A's to draft Nolan Fontana this year, a plus defensive SS from the University of Florida, with an advanced approach at the plate who will likely be a big leaguer sooner rather than later.

OF - Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Grant Green, Collin Cowgill, Michael Choice. Here, I think, is where things get interesting.

Yoenis Cespedes is clearly going to start for the A's for the next 4 seasons, based on his contract alone. Whether he's worth that contract remains to be seen. The acquisition of Cespedes may have cloudied up the A's organizational depth chart, in a very good way.

Josh Reddick is already a plus defensive outfielder with a natural ability to hit line drives, despite having an overly-aggressive approach at the plate.

Grant Green is also an aggressive line drive machine making a transition from SS to the outfield. Scouting reports going back to his time at USC have suggested that CF might be his natural position. Regardless, I think he will turn into either an above average defensive centerfielder, or a plus defensive corner outfielder. Green, in my opinion (and I am high on him), will be something akin to Michael Young offensively and Ryan Sweeney defensively. On offense, I think Green will develop into a .300+ hitter with decent power, but that will come with a good deal of strikeouts. Defensively, his transition has earned high praise from his performance at both AA and in the Arizona Fall League. He will likely begin 2012 as the Rivercats' center fielder.

Collin Cowgill, a Billy Beane man-crush, is a zero-service time player with classic 4th-outfielder profile. Small, but can stick at any outfield position in a pinch and a good approach at the plate with good contact ability.

Michael Choice is the interesting guy, in my opinion. A center fielder right now, he crushed pitching in Stockton last year and will likely begin the season at AA as the Rockhounds' center fielder. Defensively he is expected to move to a corner outfield spot before reaching the majors, but profiles as plus out there. He has massive power potential, but contact issues and swing/timing issues leave him vulnerable to off-speed stuff. Right handed power hitters like Choice tend to have issues adjusting to major league breaking stuff, and it can stall their development (a la Chris Carter). He likely needs at least 200 more minor league games before being ready for the show.



Free Agency:

The A's rarely have luck in free agency, but even if signing a good free agent was a feasible option, there isn't a great selection next offseason. Kevin Youkilis and Nick Swisher are both free agents after the season. Outside of them, there isn't much there. Signing Swish back would be a good solution if he agrees to sign with the A's, but free agents rarely agree to come to Oakland. It remains to be seen what kind of contract he will command, and his performance in 2012 will go a long way towards dictating that.

Trade targets:

It's not so much that there aren't any trade targets for the A's to go after, it's that they don't have a ton of assets left to trade away. They cashed in their three big chips this winter in exchange for an impressive haul of pitchers, along with a few good outfielders. No top first base prospects, though. The two trade chips I can think of that could be used to net a solid 1B prospect are Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson if he comes back healthy from Tommy John surgery this year. But we love BMac and want him to be around forever, and I wouldn't be opposed to extending Anderson either.

The Draft:

There are a few good first base prospects in this year's draft, but amateur drafting is obviously very unpredictable and even good college draftees tend to take 2-3 years to reach the majors. Stephen Piscotty, Stanford's 3B and Pleasanton native, is a projected 1st rounder who could have to move to first base in the pros. Other college first basemen in this year's draft include Christian Walker and Adam Walker.

My plan:

And here's my solution to the first base problem. As I understand it, Cespedes, Green, Reddick, and Cowgill all profile to be good to very good major leaguers and will all be under team control for a long time (4 years for Cespedes, 5 for Reddick, 6 for Cowgill, and 7 for Green assuming he spends all of 2012 in AAA). I view them as a good four man core outfield to build around.

That leaves Choice out of the picture, assuming DH is handled by either Carter or "aging slugger du jour". If indeed Reddick and Green look like solid to good major leaguers a year from now, I would advocate moving Choice to 1B. In one fell swoop, you could eliminate the first base black hole while at the same time optimizing your position player talent. Should Green and Reddick pan out (and I admit that's not a lock) then the unforeseen yet awesome addition of Yoenis Cespedes overloads the A's organization with major league ready outfield talent. As such, the best way to utilize the A's positional talent would be to put Choice at first, despite his good glove in the outfield, and be able to put all 4 of their good outfielders into the lineup at the same time. I'd project the A's 2014 lineup to look like this:

C - Norris (3.0 WAR)

1B - Choice (2.5 WAR)

2B - Weeks (5.0 WAR)

SS - Pennington/Fontana(???) (1.5 WAR)

3B - Sizemore (let's not write him off yet, he'll only be 29 and has 4 years of team control left after this season) (2.5 WAR)

LF - Grant Green (2.0 WAR)

CF - Yoenis Cespedes (5.5 WAR) (Yes, I went there)

RF - Josh Reddick (3.5 WAR)

4th OF - Collin Cowgill (0.5 WAR)

DH - Either some aging slugger, or maybe Chris Carter reaches his potential (2 WAR)

Or roughly 28 WAR out of the position players. If we get a similar output out of the pitching staff, that there's a playoff team everybody.

That's my plan. Do you have a better way to solve the first base problem?

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