The Oakland Athletics had two players wear No. 10 this year, each at opposite ends of the season. The first was Daric Barton, who made the Opening Day roster and played his eighth season in Oakland. Oh good, we haven't argued about him in a while.
Name: Daric Barton, aka DarBar (totally not a thing)
Stats: .158/.234/.175, 19 OPS+, 64 PAs, 1 2B, 5 BB, 14 Ks, plus-4 DRS
WAR: 0.0 bWAR, negative-0.5 fWAR
How he got here: Acquired from St. Louis Cardinals prior to 2005
2014 Salary: $1.25 million
2015 Status: Free agent
2015 Salary: TBD
Here we go again. Let's begin with a quick background on Barton's Oakland career, in song form:
No matter how poorly Barton plays, and no matter how many times the A's cut or release him, he always seems to find his way back to Oakland. Such was the case in 2014, as he made the Opening Day roster for two reasons.
It may be difficult to remember, but Barton finished 2013 on a bit of a tear. After spending a large part of the year in Triple-A, he came up in late August and spent most of the rest of the season starting at first base; in 97 plate appearances, he managed to bat .301/.381/.398 with more walks than strikeouts and a pair of home runs. With that hot streak as his most recent data point, and space for a platoon first baseman on the roster, the A's gave him a non-guaranteed contract for 2014. And just like that, the cat came back.
That September heater kept Barton in the organization until spring training, and he kept it going during the preseason with a .478 OBP on the strength of 12 walks and only two strikeouts. He was also out of options, so when it came down to it he got the last spot on the roster over Stephen Vogt since Vogt could be safely sent to Triple-A. On one hand, Vogt went down, got hurt, and didn't reemerge in Oakland until June. On the other hand, I'm a big believer in the butterfly effect and I don't think we can assume that Vogt would have had the same awesome season if things had gone differently. As usual, the promise of latent potential, coupled with a brief flash of brilliance, was enough to extend Barton's leash just a little bit longer.
Then reality set in. Barton went 2-for-26 in his first 13 games (seven starts), and things never got much better. After his emphasis on patience had failed to produce consistent dividends earlier in his career, he appeared to have adopted a more aggressive approach in 2013. It worked that year, as he chased out of the zone more and saw his batting average rise; however, it backfired terribly in 2014, as many of those extra swings missed the ball entirely. Instead of replacing some of his walks with extra hits, he replaced them with extra strikeouts. When he did make contact, it was even weaker than usual.
To make matters worse, on April 12 Craig Gentry returned from his season-opening DL stint. To make space, Sam Fuld was sent packing while Barton remained. It made more sense at the time than it sounds now, as it was only a few games into the season and Barton was still part of the plan in the infield. Gentry and Fuld are outfielders, and it was understood that Fuld was just keeping Gentry's spot warm for the short-term. However, it made it hurt that much more when Fuld was reacquired at the cost of Tommy Milone later in the summer; it's easy for one's imagination to come up with a situation in which Fuld stuck around all year, Coco was able to go on the DL to rest his neck with another suitable backup in place, and Milone was still in the organization. But again, there's no guarantee that things would have gone that way, and giving Barton one last shot probably had a better chance of success than many of us want to admit.
Alright, we get it. Barton was bad this year and the A's probably would have been better off without him. Let's take a look at what he did well this year, specifically his defense. It's no secret that Barton is an ace defender at first despite not being particularly tall, and nothing changed in that department in 2014. In only 162 innings (less than 10 percent of a full season), he racked up four runs of value according to Defensive Runs Saved, which would be a mammoth total if extrapolated over a full season (which isn't how defensive metrics work, but still). He also continued his career-long trend of positive UZR values, which isn't meaningful in the context of this single partial season except to show that there is no specific reason to doubt his overall talent level. Unfortunately, that glove just isn't enough to make him a quality contributor to a Major League team.
On May 15, the A's acquired Kyle Blanks from the Padres and Barton was finally designated for assignment. However, after falling flat all year, no one wanted him and he ended up back in Sacramento. The cat just wouldn't stay away. On the bright side, I'm pretty sure he now holds several River Cats career offensive records and is one of their all-time best players.
Another year, another chapter in the tragic saga of Daric Barton's Oakland Athletics career.
2014 season grade, relative to expectations: D- ... We knew the glove would be there, so he avoids an F for at least meeting that expectation and being competent on one side of the ball. I hoped the bat might finally be there, but it wasn't. It was worse than it had ever been. Sigh.
2014 season grade, overall: F ... His OPS was .410 and his OPS+ was 19, as a first baseman. 'Nuff said.
Barton wasn't around for long, so I have space to show you each one of his five RBI. We'll start with an opposite-field single to bring in the runner from second.
Next, a two-run single that probably should have been ruled an error. Hey, the runs count the same. Barton came up four times with a runner on third and fewer than two out, and he came up with four RBI in those situations (including these two). Earlier in this game, with Josh Reddick on third and nobody out, Barton hit a grounder that squeezed through the infield for an error; Barton wasn't credited with an RBI on the play, but he still made contact in a situation that demanded contact and technically brought the run home.
Here's a sac fly to bring in another runner from third.
And an RBI groundout to bring in another.
So, there you go. Five RBI. Let's move on to his defense, which is an area where he really can change a game (in his team's favor, that is). Most first basemen wouldn't even attempt this throw.
And a nice running catch.
Barton is a free agent now. He's blocked at first by Brandon Moss, Billy Butler, Nate Freiman, Kyle Blanks, and now Ike Davis, but I don't think anyone will believe that he's gone until another team actually signs him and we see him suit up in another uniform. Until then, the cat can always come back. He always has.