If you follow the A's closely, you've probably heard the news. On Monday the A's announced that, at least for the Japan trip, shiny new Cuban toy Yoenis Cespedes will be handed the starting center field job, forcing Coco Crisp to shift over to left field.
In an interview with USA Today, Coco was refreshingly honest, "I was a little hurt,'' Crisp said. "It's humbling. It's going to be an adjustment, I won't lie.'' Reportedly, the deciding factor for Crisp signing with the A's was the chance to play center field every day. At the time, it was very likely that the A's had no idea they'd be the victor in the Cespedes sweepstakes. Josh Reddick was the only real competition for center field. Basically, it was almost surely Coco's job. Remember that in the early winter our plan was apparently an all-Sweeney outfield.
I find this story fascinating for many reasons. First, it was great to hear a ballplayer choose "better situation" over "better money". Well, I'm speculating on the money issue, but from what's been reported Crisp did not simply choose to flat out chase the best monetary offer. It's not often you hear a ballplayer make a choice that betters his lifestyle instead of his wallet. Not two months later, we're reminded exactly why chasing the money is such a popular plan. It's the only true guarantee.
On Monday, the A's made what they felt was the best baseball decision, and decided to give the centerfield job to Cespedes. Going just off information from the Nightingale article, it sounds like a cold-hearted business move. Was A's management aware of Coco's desire to play center, and only center?
Here's a question not often asked in sports. Is the benefit of Cespedes in center worth the cost of a less happy Coco? Will this actually effect Coco's play? There's an old adage that good managers put players in the position where they can best succeed. I'm not entirely sure what the pros and cons of each player in center might be. My first thought is that the A's hope Cespedes can hold down centerfield long term and want his MLB experience at the position to grow starting Day One (and how oh so close that day is!). I'll let the better baseball minds on this site debate that one.
Baseball strategy aside, I'm finding it more fascinating watching Crisp go through this period of disappointment. He gave a surprisingly in depth response in the USA Today piece regarding the unavoidable question: How do you deal with the move to left field?
"It's tough because I never really haven't played the position in a while,'' he said. "It's a challenge switching positions. I think if you enter with an open mind, and not closed off, you allow yourself to get better faster. That's what I'm trying to do. Go out here and just accept it. I think the faster you accept something, the faster you allow yourself to get better instead of fighting it.
The typical response here is usually to give an ole team spirit, rah, rah, rah cliche. "We gotta play 'em one game at a time. I'm just happy to be here. Hope I can help the ballclub. I just want to give it my best shot, and the good Lord willing things will work out." Crisp didn't quite say that, admitting that it's a bad situation and that he just has to accept it.
I friggin' love that response. Just accept it. Great life lesson. Maybe it's not how he really feels, but that's life. Baseball is a business after all. Just like the majority of us all, Coco took a gamble. He chose the A's. Seemed a safe bet, but then, like anyone who had Duke going to the Final Four next week, he got screwed. Stuff happens, you either overcome it or you mope around.
Now a lot of people will say Coco should darn well accept it. He's getting payed millions to be a left fielder. Great way to make a living. But that's a funny thing about ballplayers in today's game. Every year, the majority of the pros have already been payed. Money up front. The rest of us shlobs, we're expected to produce on a weekly or monthly basis. But pro baseball players get multi-year contracts. Crisp could certainly mope and dog it some and still be hired again at the end of this contract. In many ways he and his peers aren't under any obligation to perform well, so it's sort of his right to not play well if he doesn't want to. Okay, maybe morally wrong, but legally it's within his rights to pocket the money and play like crap.
So when you contemplate Crisp's situation, remember it's a complex thing. Yes, he's in a good situation but could have been in a better one. Life threw him a 2002 Barry Zito curveball. He could be completely professional and embrace his fate. He could throw an epic hissy fit and quit on the team. Instead, he's chosen the middle road. He expressed his displeasure but so far has publicly claimed to be working hard as can on adjusting to left field. Time will tell how well he lives up to that claim.
One last thing. A lesson I'll take from this. Plenty of teams could use a good centerfielder. Crisp knows there's a huge logjam in the Oakland outfield and that Billy Beane trades players with unmatched ferocity. If Crisp plays the best he can, he must know that come June he'd likely be shipped to a team that needs a starting center fielder. If that's truly his top desire, he can work hard and still achieve that dream.
Baseball is a business. This bit of mini-drama is just one of the many, many times in which that fact dampens the hoped-for "everyone is happy and driven and good on my team" dream that I'd imagine every fan at some level deludes themselves into thinking is the status quo for MLB. I got hooked as an A's fan in the late 90's when there was a period of amazing and entertaining clubhouse chemistry. The new youth movement of 2012 could bring a revival of that spirit, and I hope Coco and Manny and the other vets can move past their personal issues and join in on the fun.