Are There Upgrades In Sacramento?

USA TODAY Sports

The A's top minor league team has a number of hot hitters. Would any of them represent upgrades for the green and gold?

(Warning: This post is long. Like, really long. Come prepared to stay awhile.)

As I sit down to write this article at 4:34 PM Eastern Time on June 6, 2013, times are pretty good for A's fans. The team is 36-25 and has surged for the past several weeks. Oakland has the third-best record in the American League and would be in the playoffs if they started today.

The A's have a good team, but they don't necessarily have a flawless one. To identify where the weaknesses are, let's start with a table of Oakland's triple-slash numbers by position, compared to MLB averages:

Position A's League
Catcher .259/.353/.350 .243/.311/.395
First base .256/.344/.433 .266/.340/.446
Second base .286/.362/.357 .263/.322/.389
Shortstop .280/.347/.432 .257/.310/.383
Third base .327/.399/.522 .260/.322/.417
Left field .236/.303/.388 .262/.328/.431
Center field .234/.319/.423 .256/.320/.403
Right field .192/.289/.354 .261/.326/.425
Designated hitter .238/.346/.442 .248/.331/.426


Well, that's interesting.

Obviously, nobody's clamoring for an upgrade at third base, where Josh Donaldson has been absolutely crushing the ball. It's hard to be upset about a catching situation that's produced an OBP over .350, as well. Center field looks squared away too, with Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes. Seth Smith has produced well in the DH spot.

The three positions where the A's have fallen short of the league mark are first base (barely) and the corner outfield spots. Over at first, Brandon Moss hit .153/.262/.333 in May (and is just 8-for-43 in June, albeit with a .462 Isolated Power--there's a fun small sample stat!) and has struck out over 30% of the time this year, a sign that last year's breakout, while not totally illusory, isn't holding up all that well. The culprits in the outfield are Josh Reddick (.177/.275/.274) and Chris Young (.187/.269/.367).

It may surprise some of you to read that Oakland second basemen have a .362 on-base percentage this year. Eric Sogard and Adam Rosales have combined for 256 plate appearances, an amount of playing time that has been met with a lot of groans from the fanbase, but the middle infield's overall line is still .283/.355/.395, well above the MLB average of .260/.316/.386. Of course, much of that production comes from Jed Lowrie, who has well-known defensive limitations.

So we have three positions where the A's raw production is below-average and another two that aren't passing the eye test for a lot of folks. Meanwhile, the team down in Triple-A Sacramento is strong as usual, with several position players excelling, prompting many to call for their promotions.

But who really would represent an upgrade for Oakland? Are there River Cats players who could truly improve Oakland's offensive (and/or defensive) fortunes, or is this just a case of the backup quarterbacks being the most popular guys in town?

Here's a list of Sacramento's current position players, with the positions they can play

Stephen Vogt--C, 1B (LF, RF to an extent)
Luke Montz--C, 1B
Daric Barton--1B
Grant Green--1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF
Scott Moore--1B, 2B, 3B, LF, RF
Hiroyuki Nakajima--SS (along with experimentation at 2B and 3B)
Andy Parrino--2B, 3B, SS, LF, RF
Jemile Weeks--2B (along with experimentation at SS)
Jeremy Barfield--LF, RF (probably 1B if needed)
Michael Choice--LF, CF, RF
Shane Peterson--1B, LF, RF (CF in an emergency a la Nick Swisher)
Michael Taylor--LF, RF (probably 1B if needed)

Of those twelve, I think we can rule a few out as upgrades right off the bat. Andy Parrino is hitting .194/.276/.324 in Sacramento and has done absolutely nothing with 219 MLB plate appearances (.190/.304/.245). If Sogard and his .259/.324/.326 line disturb you, you should be downright revulsed by Parrino.

I wrote some positive things about Barfield's future last week, but he's not even a month into his Triple-A career, and it's not like he's gone all Tommy Everidge on the PCL, with a merely solid .238/.338/.429 line. If the A's are going to call up an outfielder, he's decidedly fourth on the totem pole.

Yes, Daric Barton is hitting .287/.422/.427 in Sacramento. But the A's have given him 421 plate appearances since 2011, and he's hit .205/.323/.276 with just two homers in that timespan. I'm sorry, but I've long since run out of patience, no matter how enticing the Triple-A on-base percentages are. The A's have six options to turn to--Vogt, Montz, Moore, Peterson, converting an OF to 1B, or simply making Nate Freiman the full-time first-base starter--that seem more preferable than Barton at this point.

And so our list is whittled to nine. If we cut out the catcher, third base, center field, and DH spots, our position breakdown looks like this:

Position Incumbent Challengers
First base Brandon Moss/Nate Freiman Stephen Vogt, Luke Montz, Scott Moore, Shane Peterson (Grant Green?)
Second base Eric Sogard/Adam Rosales Grant Green, Jemile Weeks (Scott Moore?)
Shortstop Jed Lowrie Grant Green, Hiroyuki Nakajima (Jemile Weeks?)
Left field Yoenis Cespedes/Seth Smith/Chris Young Grant Green, Scott Moore, Michael Choice, Shane Peterson, Michael Taylor (Stephen Vogt?)
Right field Josh Reddick/Chris Young Grant Green, Scott Moore, Michael Choice, Shane Peterson, Michael Taylor (Stephen Vogt?)


Kind of dizzying, that table. It does reflect a lot of positional versatility on the Sacramento squad, most notably with Green and Moore, but also Vogt, to an extent. Each of these positions has multiple challengers, to say nothing of the different combinations one can make with just the MLB players (full-timing Freiman, Sogard or Rosales, moving Sogard or Rosales to SS and Lowrie to 2B, moving Moss back to the outfield, having John Jaso or Derek Norris play first). It's a prime rosterbation situation.

First, let's look at each of the nine Sacramento candidates in the abstract.

Stephen Vogt: Vogt is a lefthanded-hitting catcher who is absolutely crushing the ball in Sacramento, hitting .335/.402/.575. Notably, he's crushed righthanders at a .351/.418/.612 clip. He has a long history of excellent contact rates, including a 12.2% K-rate this season, which is fantastic for a non-slap hitter. He also has walked 10.6% of the time both this year and last season (with the Rays' Triple-A team). In my viewings, Vogt showed an affinity for working counts and the ability to rip the ball, though he doesn't profile as a 20+ homer type. Here's a video that shows both his patience and his ability to drive the ball:

Nashville LHP Travis Webb vs Sacramento C Stephen Vogt, 5.13.13 (via Nathaniel Stoltz)

Throughout his career, one big question about Vogt was whether he could catch. He's got decent receiving skills and a career 33% caught-stealing rate, so he's now a satisfactory defender behind the plate, but we've already established the A's don't need a catcher. Vogt's skillset is largely redundant with that of another former Rays catcher, John Jaso. If you really believe in Vogt's ability to be the long half of an MLB catching platoon, that opens up the idea of trading Jaso (or moving his 21% caught-stealing over to first or DH) to make room for him.

Vogt looks the part of a solid-across-the-board lefthanded hitter. He'll make contact at probably about a league-average rate (I'd expect 16-19% strikeouts), he'll probably walk about half as often as he K's, and he should pop some doubles and the occasional homer. In a strict platoon, it's not too hard to see Vogt hitting .270/.335/.440 or so. As a hitter, he's quite comparable to Seth Smith, actually.

The interesting thing with Vogt's situation with the A's is that defensively, the questions are the exact opposite of the ones he faced as a Rays prospect. We're not too worried about whether he can catch--what kind of first baseman is he? He has 237 career games in the outfield in the minors (222 in left, 15 in right)--is he adequate out there, or will he make us pine for Jack Cust's glovework? The A's have made him catch exclusively this year, though that probably has less to do with indicting Vogt's ability to play the outfield than it does with the A's gaggle of Triple-A outfielders.

Luke Montz: We've already seen Montz a bit this year, where he hit .179/.200/.393 in 30 plate appearances, almost exclusively as the designated hitter. He's now 8-for-49 in his career with two homers, six walks, and seventeen strikeouts. However, over the last three seasons, he's hit .254/.359/.519 in Triple-A with 57 (!) homers in 256 games.

It's tough to dismiss a guy who can catch and put up a 13.3% walk rate and .255 Isolated Power in Triple-A, even if he's mere weeks from his thirtieth birthday. But, of course, the A's don't need a catcher. It's a lot easier to dismiss a first baseman/DH with those numbers, and those are the only other places Montz can play (14 career games in left, with three errors, aside).

Montz probably has enough pop to hit twenty homers in a season if you just let him go. But he's not a great contact hitter, and like most catchers, he's not going to be legging out infield hits and boosting his BABIP. In fact, he had a microscopic .219 BABIP last season in Triple-A, and while that's a fluke, so is his .350 mark in Sacramento this season. Montz isn't likely to hit much over .240 as a big leaguer, so in order to be worth playing at first, he'll probably have to find a way to walk 12% of the time or so, setting him up for a .240/.330/.440 sort of line not unlike the one Moss has right now.

Can he walk that much? Maybe. He walked exactly once in his thirty PAs for Oakland this year, though, which doesn't inspire a ton of confidence. Further, of course, he hits right-handed, and if the A's are going to make a move at first base that isn't just "Make Nate Freiman the full-time starter," that move will almost certainly involve the installation of a lefty swinger.

Grant Green: Here's where things get really crazy, because Green could slot in anywhere, hypothetically. Here's a breakdown of his games played at each position in his career:

1B: 1
2B: 61
3B: 11
SS: 212
LF: 49
CF: 77

He's never played right field, but if he can play center and left, it's not as if right would totally incapacitate him (though his arm is poorly regarded, so it likely wouldn't help his cause). Similarly, he could probably learn to play first base relatively quickly.

This year, Green has played second almost exclusively; however, in the four games I saw, Green was the designated hitter, so I can't claim to have a good read on his defensive abilities beyond just observing his athletic traits.

Throughout his career, Green has been a good example of the divide between scouting reports and production. He's always been held in high esteem since the A's picked him in the first round (though at 25, the enthusiasm is beginning to taper off), but only once has he put up big numbers in a season--in, of course, the hitter's paradise known as the California League. In three years in the upper minors (in some relatively hitter-friendly leagues), Green has a pedestrian .293/.343/.432 batting line. That's not abysmal, but it leaves you wanting more.

The one big positive development with Green in his career is that, when he moved to Triple-A, he went from a relatively high-strikeout hitter (19.3% in 2010, 20.3 in 2011) to a good contact hitter (13.3% in 2012, 16.5% this year). If there's a skill we can count on from him, it's that he probably will make contact with the ball a reasonable amount. And we know he can play anywhere without totally embarrassing himself. A guy who can make decent amounts of contact, get an extra-base hit now and then, and show the slightest semblance of plate discipline while playing seven positions has value.

But what of those great scouting reports? One thing that really jumps out about Green is that he looks great in a baseball uniform. He probably could sell jeans. He's long and athletic and still has some room to grow into his body even at his relatively advanced age, with some power projection left. He also has a very pretty swing.

Watching him over the course of over a dozen at-bats though, I couldn't help but feeling that for all the aesthetic grace of seeing an athletic player taking beautiful cuts, there was something very empty to the whole thing. He likes to get his arms extended on the ball, so he can drive pitches middle-away to all fields, as you can see here:

Nashville RHP RJ Seidel vs Sacramento DH Grant Green, 5.13.13 (via Nathaniel Stoltz)

But pitches on the inner half jam him. Watch how late he is on fastballs inside from soft-tossing lefty Zach Kroenke:

Nashville LHP Zach Kroenke vs Sacramento DH Grant Green, 5.12.13 (via Nathaniel Stoltz)

Also, when he gets pitches down or on the outside black, his pretty swing tends to turn into a weak lunge:

Nashville RHP Frankie De La Cruz vs Sacramento DH Grant Green, 5.14.13 (via Nathaniel Stoltz)

In short, Green's swing looks effortless when he gets the ball where he wants, but in other situations, "effortless" goes from a positive (i.e. "He made that look easy") to a negative ("He should've swung with more authority; why wasn't he trying harder? WHERE'S THE #TWTW?!"). It's tough to project him as an above-average MLB hitter when he seems to have trouble with pitches in a lot of areas of the zone.

Green can probably make contact at a league-average rate and rip a double here and there, but for me he projects as something like a .265/.315/.370 hitter. He may grow into some power late in his career and have a little Mark DeRosa run where he finds enough strength to be a suitable corner bat, but until that spurt happens, he seems to be best cast as a seven-position rover who can help out with late-game switches against lefty specialists and cover any position when the regular starter hits the DL. Yes, a .265/.315/.370 line isn't any worse than Sogard's production, but Green's poor defensive reputation up the middle means he'd have to outhit the players who are considered solid glovemen to be worth playing.

Scott Moore: While Green's profile is probably the hardest of these nine players to unpack (just look how long it took me to do so), Scott Moore is a considerably easier player to evaluate, mostly because he has 152 games of MLB experience. Moore is a career .242/.302/.410 hitter, and he hit .259/.330/.448 for Houston in 228 PAs last season. He's hit well in Sacramento this year, with a .281/.373/.438 line.

Moore's last few years illustrate a reason for pessimism about Montz and Vogt's ability to maintain high walk rates in the majors. Moore has walked at 11.3, 12.0%, and 11.5% clips in Triple-A the last three years, but he has a 6.5% career walk rate in the majors, and was just marginally better than that (7.0%) last year with Houston. At 29, the prognosis of his career 105/28 K/BB rounding into more than 3/1 form is slim, even though it's 2/1 in Sacramento.

Moore definitely has his uses; it's not easy to find guys who can put up a .342 wOBA against right-handed pitchers (as he did last year) while playing five positions don't grow on trees. But Moore's primary position is third base, where he obviously won't be playing. That means the A's have to either play him at second--a position he has 66 career games of experience at, between the majors and minors, and doesn't profile especially well for defensively--or move him to first, left, or right, where his bat doesn't really stand out. In an era of 11-man bullpens, Moore would have tremendous use, and the A's could definitely make use of his skills if they wanted to--for example, if the team jettisoned Moss entirely and made Freiman the everyday first baseman, Moore would have tremendous value as a late-game lefty-pinch hitter who could also play a bit of second. He could come in handy for the A's in the event of injuries later on this year, because he definitely is a quality player; however, he probably does not represent a significant upgrade unless it turns out he can play a solid second base.

Hiroyuki Nakajima: Ahh, the man of mystery. Nakajima is hitting pretty well in Sacramento--.319/.363/.451, to be exact. A longtime shortstop, he's been playing a bit of second and third lately in an effort to increase his versatility.

Nakajima doesn't have the plate discipline of many of his Sacramento teammates, but he does have a superior feel for contact (13.7% K rate). His swing is not geared for power, but he does have enough strength to occasionally put a charge in the ball, as evidenced by his consistent double-digit homer output in Japan. Here's an opposite field groundrule double:

Nashville RHP RJ Seidel vs Sacramento SS Hiroyuki Nakajima, 5.13.13 (via Nathaniel Stoltz)

Like Green, Nakajima doesn't get around on inside pitches all that well, and though he has good plate coverage, he is prone to making lazy contact off the end of the bat. He has a smaller zone and a slightly more compact stroke, though, which gives him the edge in the comparison of hit tools; further, Nakajima is a far more legitimate middle infield defender than Green is. He has smooth actions defensively and shows good polish at shortstop.

However, one big negative about Nakajima is that his speed on the bases is at the absolute bottom of the line. Watch him take an eternity to get to first base on a ball that even Jose Molina would have a decent chance of beating out:

Nashville RHP Kyle Heckathorn vs Sacramento SS Hiroyuki Nakajima, 5.14.13 (via Nathaniel Stoltz)

You don't need to time that to know it was pretty slow. I usually got Nakajima's home-to-first times--that one included--in the 4.7 to 4.8 second range--a full .25-.35 slower than a guy who calls himself @Baseclogger. It's a testament to his lateral quickness and feel for positioning that he can play a good shortstop with such poor raw straight-line speed--speed that prevents him from getting many infield hits, as exemplified in the above clip.

Nakajima might be able to hit .275/.320/.385 or so in the majors with average shortstop defense and zero baserunning value, which essentially makes him a slightly better version of Yunel Escobar in terms of his skillset and would make him worth about as much to the A's as Cliff Pennington was in 2010-11--that is, a decent player who you're just comfortable enough to stick with until he fails, but not comfortable enough to always be sniffing around for upgrades. He's best cast as a shortstop, where his bat stands out the most. As far as platooning, he's actually hitting .371/.405/.573 against his fellow righties and is just 3-for-21 against southpaws in his stateside career, so there's no evidence yet (unless someone knows of a site that has Japanese Pacific League splits) that Nakajima is any better-suited to a platoon role than an everyday one.

Jemile Weeks: Like Moore, Weeks has extensive major league time--we're all probably quite familiar with his production. He had a great season in 2011, hitting .303/.340/.421, and then collapsed in 2012, hitting .221/.305/.304. Almost all of the difference can be attributed to BABIP--his mark in the stat went from .350 to .256, as his line drive rate fell from 23.3% to 18.8%. Some of that drop (and the initial surge in 2011) can be attributed to luck, and it's highly likely that his true talent level is somewhere in between, near his .260/.321/.360 career line with a .301 BABIP. This year, he's hitting .263/.387/.362 in Sacramento.

One notable development with Weeks last season was that his walk rate jumped from 4.8% to 9.8%. If he is just a .260 hitter with a .100 Isolated Power, then having a 9.8% walk rate gives him an OBP of .345. A .260/.345/.360 hitter with bigtime speed is useful; a .260/.321/.360 hitter with bigtime speed is marginal; a .260/.295/.360 hitter (using the 4.8% walk rate of his first season) with bigtime speed is replacement level fodder at best.

Weeks does have a 14.4% walk rate in Sacramento this year. He's a small guy with a good feel for the zone and a tendency to spoil a lot of pitches by fouling them off. He doesn't seem to have a great sense of driving the ball, though--he'll spoil pitches all day, but there's rarely that moment where he gets "his pitch" and does damage with it. That's going to limit his ability to sustain batting averages much over .260--he'll get some infield hits, of course, and he isn't a totally punchless hitter, but there isn't much consistency in his ability to square the ball up.

Weeks' ability to stick will therefore depend on his ability to wring enough walks out to post a good OBP for a second baseman, because that's the only spot he can play. He accumulated a -11.9 UZR in his two years in the majors, and he still looks raw on defense, often letting the ball play him and getting bad reads on grounders. He has enough athleticism to compensate and be passable at the spot, and he could probably play the outfield if needed, but there's no room for him out there (he won't hit enough for the corners, and center's covered already, anyway). The whole shortstop experiment is highly, highly unlikely to work--there's no way Weeks is going to be a better shortstop than Nakajima or Lowrie, and he's not going to outhit them, either. You could make a case that he's a slightly better hitter than Sogard, and he certainly offers more basestealing value, but he also gives back those gains on defense.

Michael Choice: I also talked about Choice in last week's article, and I had a lot of positives to say. He's hitting .281/.387/.467 in his first try in Triple-A, with an improved 19.8% K-rate and 13% walk rate.

But the key there is "first try in Triple-A." Here's the one player of the nine where longer-term organizational objectives come into play. Every other player on this list (except the longtime Japanese Pacific Leaguer Nakajima) is a Triple-A repeater; most of them actually have several years of experience in Triple-A and the big leagues. Choice is the youngest of the group, and also the one with the highest upside--last week, I pegged his upside at .275/.360/.535 with slightly above-average left field defense, which is a heck of a player. The A's shouldn't bring him up until they're a) fully sure he's ready and b) have regular at-bats to give him. With a lot of acclaimed veterans in the outfield--Crisp, Cespedes, Young, Smith, Reddick, and (sort of ) Moss--it would be pretty tough to push one or more aside and just plug Choice in every day. It might be possible to cut down on, say, Young and Reddick's at-bats to work a guy in every third game to see if he heats up and earns more time, but putting Choice in such an uneven situation doesn't seem prudent. He's had issues adjusting to non-inflated offensive environments before, and it's best to give him the full season in Triple-A unless an injury stack or trade opens up a clear route to playing time.

Shane Peterson: I talked about Peterson last week as well, saying he could hit .275/.350/.385 in the majors--he's at .249/.378/.387 in Sacramento right now (.271/.410/.443 vs. RHPs) after last year's silly .389/.484/.618 line. Peterson's problem is that he lacks the power to really stand out as a corner player or the athleticism to be much more than just an average defender in the outfield corners, but he could be a decent platoon guy, and guys who get on base at .350 clips have a lot of value (especially on a team with a collective OBP below .300 from its corner outfielders). In order for Peterson to have any room to play, though, the A's would either have to get rid of Moss or option Reddick. While neither player has inspired much confidence with his recent performance (Reddick's homer, which he just hit about half an hour ago, notwithstanding), both moves seem a bit drastic when the "payoff" is the promotion of an underpowered 25-year-old. Reddick, it should be noted, actually has an 11.1% walk rate and a 20% K rate, both of which are improvements over last year and not notably worse than what one would expect from Peterson. Of course, Reddick is a better power hitter and right fielder than Peterson is, so all that's left as a Peterson advantage is the fact that Reddick pops up an extraordinary amount of the time (14.4% IFFB% last year, 15.8% this year), something Peterson is unlikely to struggle as badly with.

Like Moore, Peterson is a fine complimentary player on a team that needs his skillset, and it's quite possible the A's will need his skillset at some point--seemingly superfluous scrubs can evolve into essential elements in nary a nanosecond. Right now, though? He doesn't seem like a downgrade, but promoting him doesn't seem like it guarantees any significant dividends, either.

Michael Taylor: Taylor has been a full win below replacement as an Oakland A. He's 10-for-74 with seven walks and 26 strikeouts and a -3.4 UZR (-3.2 of which came in 2011). He was memorably 1-for-23 in a trial earlier this year.

However, he also hit .287/.405/.441 in Sacramento last season, and he's followed that up by hitting .321/.379/.527 this year (albeit with a disturbing halving of his walk rate). He stole eighteen bases last year despite his massive size. As much as a lot of people who have only seen his MLB at-bats may not want to see it, Michael Taylor may well be the most complete player on the Sacramento roster.

While the 1-for-23 stings, Taylor walked twice and struck out five times with the A's in 25 plate appearances--hardly an indication he was overmatched. He hit four line drives--BABIP on line drives is usually around .720--and only one fell in. On grounders--BABIP around .260--he went 0-for-6, another case of bad luck. His major league struggles aren't an endorsement, but there's certainly nothing there that screams "Michael Taylor can't hit in the majors."

With Chris Young--normally a good defensive center fielder--shunted to the outfield corners for the first time in his career and not taking well to the transition, one has to wonder if Taylor could play the platoon corner outfield role just as well. Like Taylor, Young has a bad line largely brought about by awful BABIP luck--he's got a .204 mark, 71 points off his career figure--and is likely to bounce back some. Unlike Taylor, though, Young is making eight figures. If the A's could move any of that money in a trade, get him out of town, and give Taylor a 200-PA trial the rest of the way before the inevitable Choice takeover comes, it would seem to benefit all parties involved. The A's would save money that could be spent more efficiently without getting demonstrably worse and somewhat unclog the outfield stack while finding out what they have in Taylor, and if Taylor hits, he'd make an attractive trade chip when Choice comes up in 2014 (or he could alternatively make one of the veterans expendable).

~~~~~~

Well, that was exhaustive. What conclusions can we come to, though?

First base: Montz and Green are righties and don't seem any better than Freiman, Peterson hits lefty but lacks the power required of a first baseman, and Moore doesn't seem like he's got enough punch to stick there either. That leaves Vogt, who isn't as much of a boom-or-bust, slump-or-slam guy as Moss, but who also hit .272/.350/.424 in Triple-A last year at age 27. He may be an option at the position later on, but it seems foolish to jump the gun, DFA Moss, and promote Vogt on the basis of six hot weeks from the one and six cold weeks from the other.

The A's can either stay the course at first and hope Moss busts his slump and starts making contact again, or they can see what Nate Freiman can do with expanded playing time. Freiman's season is the inverse of Moss'--he hit .148/.250/.296 in April and seemed certain to be DFA'd, only to hit .351/.415/.514 in May and win AL Rookie of the Month honors. Despite being 6'8" and having a huge strike zone, he's making contact at a good rate and walking over half as often as he's striking out. Perhaps the A's should start phasing him in more against righties (he has only 21 PAs against them, though he's just 1-for-19 with a walk and 3 K) until either Moss shapes up or Freiman proves he can't handle full-time work--if both struggle against righties and Vogt is still hitting in Sacramento, then perhaps it's time to bring him into the mix.

Second base/Shortstop: I group these together because nobody's advocating that Jed Lowrie become a non-everyday player. He's hitting .319/.398/.444, and middle infielders who do that are few and far between. He is, however, 5.9 runs below average defensively per UZR, and while UZR in small samples is notoriously unreliable, that number is a nice encapsulation of the dissatisfaction with his defense. So the first question is "Who do you want playing the non-Lowrie middle infield spot?" and the second is "Which position does Lowrie play and which position does the other player or pair of players play?"

Try saying that second question three times fast.

Eric Sogard is hitting .259/.324/.326. His .299 BABIP may undersell him a bit (he has a career 23.4% line-drive rate, after all), as does his .067 Isolated Power (.129 and .108 in previous callups), so I think he could hit .270/.335/.350--granted, these numbers all come in a role where he's basically facing righthanders exclusively. That's pretty much in line with the .260/.345/.360 we might expect from Weeks, except Sogard (+2.5 UZR for his career, and generally good defensive reviews by the eye test) is the better defender. I'm not optimistic Grant Green is going to hit righthanders any better than that, either, and he also comes with defensive question marks.

Then there's Adam Rosales, a .227/.312/.402 hitter this year and just .224/.295/.339 across an 862-plate-appearance career (Sogard has just 339). Rosales has a career -0.2 UZR across all four infield spots and left field (Sogard has played second, short, and third); he has a stronger arm that Sogard but is probably worse in all other defensive aspects. Rosales is hitting lefties this year (.294/.390/.431), but he has done nothing against righties (.119/.162/.262)--a career-long issue, as he has just a 62 wRC+ against northpaws for his career.

But it is an effective little platoon, contrary to what one might think. Sogard's got a .336 OBP against righties, Rosales has a .390 OBP against lefties, neither's killing the team defensively, and both may yet see BABIP improvements (Rosales' is .243, though he has a low 16.2% line-drive rate).

I understand the fanbase's reluctance to be at ease with either player, especially Rosales, who has a very mixed track record. Sogard, I think, deserves a longer leash than some give him--he always hit in Sacramento and his previous MLB struggles came in small samples and were almost entirely BABIP-driven (.218 and .181 marks in '11 and '12). Frankly, I wonder if the A's might be best-served making the Sogard/Rosales platoon exclusively a shortstop thing and moving Lowrie over to second. I think Sogard may well be better at short than Lowrie.

But if you're just not happy with Sogard and Rosales, the only options that seem like they might pay dividends are:

A) Recall Moore and option Sogard; run a Moore/Rosales platoon.
B) Recall Nakajima and DFA Rosales; run a Sogard/Nakajima platoon.
C) Recall Nakajima and DFA Rosales (or Sogard, I guess); make Nakajima the everyday SS, Lowrie the everyday 2B, and Sogard the utility infielder
D) Recall Nakajima and Moore, option Sogard, and DFA Rosales; run a Moore/Nakajima platoon

As much as I like Sogard relative to the consensus, I readily admit that Moore can probably outhit The Bespectacled One. However, the question is how much of that offensive prowess would be given back by subpar defense. And while Nakajima probably makes for a better everyday player than Sogard or Rosales, does he project to hit better than Rosales against lefties and Sogard against righties? I'm not so sure. He may be a better shortstop defender than either player, but probably not by much.

The bold, interesting move would be to call up Moore and option Sogard--unlike with Rosales, Sogard has options, so if the new arrangement didn't take, Sogard could just be brought back up. Everything else seems to have little payoff unless you think Rosales' performance against lefties is a fluke, which means Nakajima should be in against lefties, with the possibility of proving himself fit for everyday duty if he starts hitting in the majors.

Outfield: As much as the corner outfield spots have failed to produce, the A's are looking at Coco Crisp in one spot and Yoenis Cespedes in another (most likely center and left, respectively), which leaves just one spot open, right field, currently occupied by Reddick and Young. If they A's wanted to be really nuts, they could option Reddick, trade or DFA Young, and make Choice the everyday right fielder, but that scenario seems both shortsighted and farfetched even in our rosterbatory universe.

No, the most likely scenarios for the right field slot involve swapping out Peterson for Reddick or Taylor for Young, and I've already detailed why the former seems premature and the latter quite sound. As with Vogt and Moss, the Peterson-Reddick situation would begin to tilt more heavily in the former's favor if the status quo--Peterson hitting well and Reddick poorly--persists for an extended period of time. The more convincing the evidence that Peterson is superior, obviously, the more reason to give him the MLB slot.

Taylor over Young is the only move I think is clearly preferable. Of course, the outfield looks like this...

Position Starter vs. RHP Starter vs. LHP Primary Backup
LF Cespedes Cespedes Smith/Taylor
CF Crisp Crisp Cespedes
RF Reddick Taylor Reddick/Taylor


...then Seth Smith doesn't have a platoon partner. That means that against lefties, the A's either have to start Moss, Reddick, or Smith (or, I suppose, they could start Jaso or Sogard, which doesn't really make sense either). But they have to do that already anyway with Young in the fold instead of Taylor. It's a bit of a hindrance, being forced to start one of a group of fairly unreliable lefthanded hitters against a lefthanded pitcher, but every roster has an inefficiency here and there.

~~~~~~

So there you have it! It's just one man's (admittedly very detailed) opinion, but I hope this post was interesting, insightful, and informative more often than it was belabored or boring. There aren't any "right answers," really, to what the A's should do at their various positions of need or quasi-need, because the futures of the players in question are anything but certain. Any number of arrangements and opinions on these matters can be supported by rather considerable factual evidence. I invite your thoughts in the comments, as always.

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