Billy Beane made another interesting move today. He signed outfielder Sam Fuld to a minor league contract, according to Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. The deal will be worth $800,000 (plus incentives) if Fuld makes the roster, but he can opt out at two different points if he isn't with the major league club: the end of March, or June 1.
When I first got wind of this signing, my first thought was: Why? Why add another speedy, defensive outfielder who can't hit when we already have four speedy, defensive outfielders who can hit as well as a good hitter (Moss) who can adequately play the corner outfield positions? The best answer I can come up with: Coco Crisp insurance.
Before we get into the logic behind the transaction, though, let's meet the player. Here is a list of facts about Sam Fuld:
- He's 32 years old.
- He can't really hit. His career line is .234/.314/.330, and last year he hit .199 in 200 plate appearances. He's hit six home runs in 366 career games, and five of them came in dreams he had.
- He's a really good defender. He's fast and he leaps and dives all over the place, and the metrics like him quite a bit. DRS and UZR think he's excellent on the corners and adequate in center. Total Zone more or less agrees, but with more conservative ratings on both ends.
- He's quick, but he's only been decent at stealing bases in the majors. He's made it 37 out of 50 times, which is a 74% success rate. I did that math in my head because I'm a wizard. Fuld can also leg out triples, which are considered by some to be the most exciting play in baseball. Presumably, those triples start as ground balls to short but then bounce around the dirt like in Angels in the Outfield while Fuld gleefully sprints around the bases (citation needed).
- He's a big-time fan favorite. The Tampa Bay faithful loved this guy, or so I'm told.
- He has one of the most extensive Wikipedia pages in baseball history. The level of detail is staggering. It includes his birth weight and three paragraphs about his high school career. As of 2011, it had more words than the Wiki page for Star Trek. Again, he's played in 366 career games and is 32 years old.
- He has diabetes. I read all about it on his Wikipedia page. Six paragraphs' worth.
- He went to Stanford, so, although he grew up on the East Coast, he has a local background.
- He has nearly 31,000 followers on Twitter. That's more than Josh Donaldson, it's more than Sean Doolittle and it's more than Jarrod Parker. I haven't checked all of Oakland's players yet, but Fuld might now lead the team in Twitter followers. 366 games, 32 years old. Like I said, fan favorite. You may as well get a head start and begin following him now @SamFuld5.
- The Rays acquired him when they sent Matt Garza to the Cubs, so he probably has some sort of anti-Garza chi energy or something. Bizarro Garza? He'll probably get along famously with Kaycee Sogard, at least. This list is starting to stray from the premise of "fact," but just roll with it.
- He's basically Nick Punto in the outfield, but left-handed. Not a perfect analogy, but close enough for now.
- Another imperfect analogy: Eric Byrnes without the bat.
- This is a quote from his Wikipedia page: "In the minors, as a result of his fearless defense, he was referred to as 'a crash test dummy with a death wish,' a 'human wrecking ball act,' a 'wall magnet,' and a 'manager's dream and a trainer's worst nightmare.'"
- This photo. Because what the hell is going on here? There are people flying all over the place and the ball is nowhere near the action. This picture sums up the player quite well.
Alright, now we have an idea who Sam Fuld is. He profiles best as a fourth or fifth outfielder who can pinch-run and serve as a late-inning defensive replacement. Unfortunately, the A's don't have any sub-par defenders nor slow baseruners in the outfield, so I don't see Fuld making the Opening Day roster. With Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Craig Gentry, Oakland is set. And, with Brandon Moss's ability to shift to the outfield corners in a pinch, the 25th roster spot simply can't be used on an outfielder. That last spot is going to either Alberto Callaspo, Daric Barton, Nate Freiman, or some other infielder who Beane magically unearths on March 28.
So, what's the point of getting Fuld? He's not going to make the majors, at least not as the roster is currently constructed. He's not particularly compelling minor league depth, in general, since he's already well into his 30s and his game is extremely limited. Therefore, I think that he is specifically Coco Crisp insurance. That's sort of the same thing as being minor league depth, but don't get smart with me. Fuld can't be Cespedes insurance, because if you lose La Potencia than you need to find some power with which to replace him. He can't be Reddick insurance for the same reason. But if Coco gets hurt, then Gentry has to slide in and play center every day in his stead since neither Cespedes nor Reddick can handle that position long-term. Now you have a Gentry-sized hole on your bench, and Fuld fills it admirably. He could platoon with Gentry, since he's a left-handed batter, but Fuld has slightly reversed platoon splits and Gentry still has better numbers against right-handed pitchers than he does.
Fuld's contract has "contingency plan" written all over it. He can opt out at the end of Spring Training if he doesn't make the team, so he may be betting on the not-unlikely chance of one Oakland's fragile outfielders getting hurt. However, there were several teams interested in Fuld and he chose the A's with full knowledge of their outfield situation, so I'll bet that he sticks around for the June 1 opt-out. That gives a couple of months of "stuff happens" in the regular season before Fuld needs to make his next decision on his future.
In the meantime, there is plenty of space for Fuld in Sacramento. The only guys who played at least 10 games in the outfield and are at all likely to return this year are Michael Taylor, Shane Peterson, Jake Goebbert and Conner Crumbliss. Fuld can find playing time within that group.
So, there you go. Fuld is a player who is more fun to watch than he is talented. However, he does have some talent and has proven useful enough to carve out a six-year major league career so far, often on contending teams. My guess is that Beane saw a useful player who was available with no risk and could be a back-up for the most injury-prone part of his lineup. There's a decent chance that he never suits up for Oakland, but if he does then there is a 100 percent chance that we all go nuts over him and love him to death.