Sometimes, things turn out exactly like you expected they would. The writing is on the wall, clear as day, and you later find out that you read it properly. That was the feeling that I got yesterday when I read Jane Lee's Q&A on MLB.com, in which she mentioned that John Jaso "figures to get the bulk of playing time (at DH) in 2014."
If you read Athletics Nation regularly, then you probably know that many of us have been tabbing Jaso as next year's DH since the day that Oakland's season ended. This has been mostly speculation on our part, because the team has remained relatively silent on the issue -- after all, there is nothing to gain by committing to any specific lineup dynamic before the roster is fully set. Bob Melvin did mention in December (via Susan Slusser) that Jaso would "likely get at-bats as a designated hitter," but you could make that vague claim about virtually any A's hitter with the way that Melvin shuffles his players around; Lee's more recent statement cuts more to the chase by making Jaso sound like Option #1 to play that role.
The argument for moving Jaso out from behind the plate is obvious. Start with the fact that he suffered a concussion last summer which ended his season after July 24, limiting him to just 70 games overall; he was still feeling the effects in September, and if a guy's noggin got knocked that seriously then the smart move is to reduce the chance of it happening again. Add to that the fact that he is a pretty bad defensive catcher, which you can ascertain either by exploring the various defensive metrics or by simply watching him play for a few innings. Top it off by considering that the A's already have a solid catching platoon (Derek Norris and Stephen Vogt), Jaso's value is too low to justify trading him, and his bat is too good to bench him. Add it all together, and plugging Jaso into the DH spot seems obvious. As it turns out, the team appears to agree.
What does this mean for the 2014 roster and lineup? As things stand right now (assuming a roster of 13 position players), Oakland has four outfielders (Cespedes, Coco, Reddick, Gentry) and six infielders (Moss, Sogard, Callaspo, Punto, Lowrie, Donaldson) to go along with two catchers (Norris, Vogt). That leaves one more spot for Jaso, and possibly one spot beyond that if Billy Beane finds a taker for Callaspo's contract; in that event, perhaps the A's would add another first baseman (Daric Barton or Nate Freiman) or, less likely, a fifth outfielder (Shane Peterson, Corey Brown, Michael Taylor). Either way, it seems clear that Jaso, Norris and Vogt will all be on the team.
As for the lineup, we now have a more clear idea of how everything will fit together. Jaso should continue to be a platoon player, meaning that he will be the regular DH against right-handed pitching. He'll generally be joined by the normal outfield (Cespy/Coco/Reddick, with Gentry on the bench), and an infield that includes Moss at first base. Against lefties, things open up. Gentry is available to spell Coco or Cespedes in the outfield; with Jaso sitting out against southpaws, the displaced outfielder can take up camp in the DH spot for the proverbial "half-day off." If Callaspo remains on the team, then he may play first in place of Moss (a move which I am firmly opposed to); if he is dealt and subsequently replaced by either Freiman or Barton, then Moss will sit in favor of one of them.
How does Jaso himself fit into this role? His single greatest attribute is his ability to hit against right-handed pitching. His career OPS of 755 jumps up to 792 against righties, and his 2013 OPS of 759 increases to 802 when you remove his at-bats against lefties. His offensive value lies almost entirely in a solid batting average (.272 vs RHP) and a fantastic OBP (.375 vs RHP); if you look at just the last two seasons combined, then those rates increase to a .293 average vs RHP (433 AB's) and a .413 OBP vs RHP (528 PA's). The lineup figures to have plenty of power, since the team ranked third in home runs in 2013 and hasn't lost any key contributors in that area, so dedicating the DH spot to an on-base wizard fits perfectly well into the greater scheme of things.
Finally, we must look at any potential opportunity cost of this theory. Making Jaso the DH prevents other hitters from getting those at-bats, but it's not immediately clear who else may be an option. Freiman would only be playing against lefties, and Barton would not be DH'ing at all (and is better suited to face lefties as well). There are no other obvious candidates to get these at-bats against right-handers, and certainly no one else on the team or in the minors who can use them as effectively as can Jaso.
Looking outside of the organization, the pickings are slim. There is Nelson Cruz, but he will be 33 next year, doesn't get on base well, and has seen his power begin to diminish over the last two years (.216 isolated power in 2012-13, down from .258 in his peak years of 2008-2011). Furthermore, he is looking for a four-year deal at $15M+ per season and whichever team he signs with will have to cough up a compensatory draft pick. He does not seem like a cost-effective option despite the fact that he would probably make the team slightly better in 2014. Kendrys Morales is still out there, but he isn't a huge upgrade over Jaso and would also cost a draft pick in addition to whatever salary he ends up making. After that, there's really nothing exciting on the open market -- Travis Hafner, anyone?
Given that the average MLB team faced only 48 left-handed starters last season (Oakland faced 54), I'm perfectly comfortable devoting an entire roster spot to a guy who will provide a potent bat in at least two-thirds of the team's games. The squad still maintains its positional flexibility, with several guys who can play multiple positions and no other defensive deadweight beyond Jaso. There are backups for everybody and platoon options for the guys who struggle against certain pitchers, and Jaso could likely serve as an emergency third catcher if Melvin finds himself in a pinch in extra innings one day.
We've been talking about it all winter, and it's looking more and more likely that it will come to fruition. John Jaso is your starting DH in 2014. Probably.