For reasons that remain unclear, Eric Sogard was voted the Oakland A's "Face of the Franchise" via a twitter poll conducted by the MLB Network. While Sogard certainly has developed a bit of a cult following among Saber-nerds and friends of the bespectacled, the pick doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. He's nowhere near as good as Josh Donaldson, as beloved as Coco Crisp, or as famous as Yoenis Cespedes.
Yet, in many ways, Eric Sogard represents the 2013-2014 Oakland A's in ways that those players do not. I wouldn't call him the face of our franchise, but he is certainly emblematic of the team, representative of its character, and a good example of the prototypical A. Consider that Sogard is/was:
- Exclusively platooned
- Relatively unknown
- Acquired as a throw-in in a long-forgotten trade (Hairston + Cunningham for Kouzmanoff + Sogard)
- Never a highly rated prospect
- Criticized by other teams and fans for shit-assed style of play
- Beloved by A's fans for fan-friendliness and an adorable quirk
I don't know about you, but that screams "Oakland A's" to me.
A team's best player isn't always the guy who represents the true soul of the team. To use another example: Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano are both excellent, but when I think of the Mariners, I don't think of excellence. I think of former top prospects who've disappointed at the big league level, and a glut of slow, lumbering 1B/DH types who occasionally hit the ball a very long way. Basically, I think of guys like Jesus Montero and Justin Smoak. Felix represents the best of what the Mariners have to offer, but Smoak represents, by and large, what the Mariners have to offer.
So since speculating about what C+ prospect we could get for Alberto Callaspo can't sustain us until pitchers and catchers report, I've spent 1,500 words running down the player who best represents each Oakland A's team of the Billy Beane era. If you want to suggest some other guys or fill in the blanks from Bert Campaneris to Steve Karsay, in the comments, be my guest.
1998-1999: Matt Stairs
The late-1990s A's were masters of finding cast-offs and journeyman like Geronimo Berroa, Olmedo Saenz, and Stairs, sticking them in the corners, and watching them mash. A short, stocky Canuck who'd rather have been a hockey player, Stairs' huge-leg-kick, all-or-nothing approach fit right in on an A's team that hit 235 HRs in 1999. After crushing minor league pitching for half a decade, Stairs performed well in a part time role for the A's in 1996 and 1997 before becoming an everyday player in 1998. From 1998-1999, Stairs hit .276/.368/.522 with 64 HRs, good for a 131 OPS+. Flanked by sluggers like Grieve, Jaha, Saenz, and Jason Giambi, the 1999 A's had one of the most formidable hearts of the order in the league, and despite black holes at C and CF and developing seasons for Chavez and Tejada, the A's managed to finish third in baseball with a 109 OPS+.
2000: Jason Giambi
Though the 2000-2003 playoff teams are often associated with the excellence of Hudson, Mulder, and Zito, Mulder pitched poorly in 2000 and Zito made only 15 (fantastic) starts just a year after being drafted. The offense was great though, and put up another 109 OPS+ led by Giambi. The Giambino hit a ridiculous .333/.476/.647, good for 7.7 WAR, and took home MVP. Beloved by fans, Giambi personified a team that partied hard and drove toy cars in the clubhouse, and his defensive shortcomings fit right in playing in front of the comically bad outfield of Matt Stairs, Terrence Long, and Ben Grieve.
2001-2003: Tim Hudson
Giambi was even better in 2001 than he was in 2000, but the 2001-2003 A's will always be known for the Big Three, and the most consistently excellent of our three aces was Tim Hudson. Like Giambi and many Moneyball era A's, Hudson was a college standout who fell in the draft due to concerns over size and athleticism before excelling in Oakland. Hudson went 49-25 with a 3.03 ERA over that stretch, averaging over 230 innings and 6 WAR per season and never missing a start (though he was famously pulled early in his second start of the 2003 ALDS, allegedly due to injuries sustained in a Boston bar fight). That sort of (alleged) behavior fit Hudson's tough, scrappy persona, and earned him the nickname "Bulldog."
2004: Barry Zito
The 2004 A's were a good team, with improved years from Eric Chavez, Jermaine Dye, and Eric Byrnes, plus solid contributions from newcomers Mark Kotsay, Erubiel Durazo, and Bobby Crosby upgrading what had been a punchless offense in 2003. But the pitching slipped from excellent to merely good, and the A's faded down the stretch. Even though Rich Harden threw 188 innings for the first and only time in his career, the Big Three regressed in what would be their last year together. After starting the All- Star game, Mulder completely fell apart, losing velocity and putting up a 6.21 ERA in the second half. And Zito turned in the then-worst performance of his career, also losing velocity and posting a solid but unspectacular 4.48 ERA, 3-win season. Zito had a chance to redeem himself in game 161, with the A's needing to win their final two games to make the playoffs, and he mostly did. He left after 7 solid innings ball with a 4-2 lead - before watching Ricardo Rincon and Jim Mecir give up 3 in the 8th en route to a crushing 5-4 loss. Many complained that Zito didn't pitch the 8th. He was still good, just not quite good enough.
2005-2006: Marco Scutaro
The A's were pretty good in 2005 and 2006, though in retrospect it's tough to figure out why. Scutaro actually came to us in 2004, filling in for the injured Mark Ellis after a long, documentary-worthy minor league career, but he was ultimately replacement level before losing his starting gig to Mark McLemore. He wasn't that much better in 2005, but he became a much-beloved fourth infielder behind the excellent but oft-injured trio of Chavez, Crosby, and Ellis, and developed a reputation as our best clutch hitter. Along with fellow surprise contributors like Jay Payton, Dan Johnson, and Kirk Saarloos (!), Scutaro helped keep the A's in contention through mid-September. The A's were a trendy pick to win the West in 2006, but it soon became clear that the Crosby-Chavez-Harden dynasty was not going to happen, and the A's sported a negative run differential as late as Mid-August. But they kept winning, and Scutaro finished the season strong as Crosby's injury replacement, posting an .866 second half OPS after an absolutely abysmal start to the season. Scutaro wasn't especially good with the A's, posting a 93 wRC+ and a 2.3 cumulative WAR from 2005-2006, and if you believe WPA, he wasn't even especially clutch. But he delivered nine game-winning hits during his Oakland tenure, and delivered the knockout punch that finally put the A's into the ALCS, once and for all dispelling the notion that Billy Beane teams couldn't win in the playoffs.
2007-2009: A's Left Fielders
2007 began a mediocre and completely uninspiring era of A's baseball, especially on offense. Oakland hitters managed exactly one season above 4 WAR from 2007-2011, which came from the universally revered Daric Barton. And Left Field, long a revolving door for the A's (as you probably know, the A's have started a different Opening Day LFer EVERY YEAR since 2000), epitomized our mediocrity. 2007 stopgap Shannon Stewart managed a forgettable 1 WAR season before giving way to the much crappier Emil Brown in 2008. Even Matt Holliday put up a still-career-worst .831 OPS in his short stay in Oakland, a disappointment that he thankfully made up for with his incredible fire and charisma. The backups were even worse, even when they weren't named Matt. A's LFers weren't exactly terrible during this stretch - just 10% worse than the league average LF, thanks to Stewart and Holliday - but they were mediocre and utterly forgettable.
2010: Dallas Braden
The 2010 A's managed to finish 81-81 and outscore their opponents by 40 runs despite hitting 109 home runs, one more than the tanking Astros and eight more than the historically awful Mariners. But the pitching was good, and Braden made national headlines twice while putting up a career-best 3.3 WAR season. His shoulder may be a shredded mess now, but through "get off my mound" and his Mothers' Day perfect game, Braden imbued the A's with a sense of pride and toughness that has carried over into the good years.
2011: David Dejesus
The A's tried to build on their perfectly respectable 2010 by trading for a couple perfectly respectable outfielders. It didn't work, as Dejesus's predictable averageness (96 wRC+, 1.9 WAR) on a team where no hitter was better than 2 WAR failed to get us over the hump, or even to .500. As usual, Jeff Sullivan already said it better.
2012: Brandon Moss
There are so many crazy things about the 2012 A's that it's tough to know where to begin. We had exactly one player who played in 130 games. Jemile Weeks was third on the team in plate appearances. And our staff workhorse was a rookie who threw 190 innings and is our sixth starter now. Like many 2012 A's, Brandon Moss came into the season completely off our radar, spending the first two months in Sacramento, learning a new position and hoping to hit well enough to catch the attention of a Japanese club. The A's gave him a shot, and eventually he entered into a semi-platoon with fellow all-or-nothing hitter Chris Carter. He struck out 30.4% of the time, which would have put him seventh among all hitters since 2000 (career) but somehow put him third among the record-whiffing 2012 A's. He was excellent despite the whiffs though, posting a .402 wOBA and hitting a walk-off in game 158 that kept our slim division hopes alive. Sentimentalists might choose Inge, Gomes, or B-Mac, but I'll take the journeyman who swung hard and hit dingers.
2013-2014: Eric Sogard
Don't blame me, I voted for Coco.