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Athletics 2014 season review: Geovany Soto tantalizes A's fans

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He's probably wincing because his thumb was already broken due to a stupid fluke play.
He's probably wincing because his thumb was already broken due to a stupid fluke play.
Ed Zurga/Getty Images

I'm never going to finish this player review series. These posts were supposed to fill some empty space in a long offseason, but Billy Beane just keeps making a major trade every single freaking week and the dust never really settles in between groundbreaking moves. I was expecting to be mostly done with all the players by now, but instead we are still back on No. 17: Geovany Soto. Since fellow catcher Derek Norris is the most recent trade departure, the timing couldn't be better to look at Soto.

Player profile

Name: Geovany Soto, aka ... Geo?
Position: C
Stats: .262/.364/.357, 14 games, 0 HR, 4 2B, 6 BB, 8 Ks, 53% CS*
WAR: 0.5 bWAR, 0.6 fWAR
How he got here: Acquired from Texas Rangers on Aug. 24
2014 Salary: $3.05 million (full season)
2015 Status: Free agent
2015 Salary: TBD

* threw out 9-of-17 attempted base stealers

Season summary

Soto's time in Oakland was brief. With John Jaso out due to another concussion, Stephen Vogt unable to catch due to his foot injury, and Derek Norris perpetually banged up from all angles, Billy Beane decided to grab a cheap veteran to plug the hole behind the plate. He ended up sending cash to the Rangers for Soto on Aug. 24.

Soto was once a Rookie of the Year and had a lot going for him. He had power from the right side and the capability to hit for a good average, and on defense he was rock solid with a pretty good arm to boot. Years of injuries took their tolls, though, and his playing time dropped from 125 games in 2011, to 99 in '12, to 54 in '13, and eventually to 24 last year -- 10 for Texas, 14 for Oakland.

It's hard to complain with what the A's got out of Soto upon his arrival, especially since he was such a question mark coming in. The most important thing is that he stayed healthy for the rest of the regular season. He provided an average batting line (104 OPS+), he threw out a bunch of basestealers, and he provided a steady hand behind the plate when the three heads of Oakland's catching monster all got hurt. (Can we take one more moment to appreciate that? That Beane planned for injury by stocking three seriously legit catchers, so that they could share the load and none of them would get worn out, and then they all got hurt anyway? Sometimes events are just out of your control despite your best-laid plans.)

One of Soto's calling cards is his ability to hit left-handed pitching. He has an .858 OPS against lefties for his career, and last year with Oakland he went 7-for-22 with three doubles, three walks, and four RBI -- coincidentally an .855 OPS, right on his career average. That's all pretty meaningless since he only got a few dozen at-bats this year, but the point is that when he did play he performed just fine.

As for season highlights, there were a few small ones. On Labor Day, when Adam Dunn homered in his first at-bat as an Athletic, Soto drilled a two-run single later in the inning to extend the early lead. He hit a two-run double in an eventual extra-inning win over the Phillies. He picked up a pair of hits in each of the last two games of the regular season, when the team had its back against the wall, and he started six of the final eight contests during that crucial stretch drive. He caught Sonny's shutout in Game 162.

But of course, it all comes down to the Wild Card game. Facing a Kansas City Royals team renowned for its speed and aggressiveness on the bases, the A's opted to start the strong-armed Soto in place of All-Star Derek Norris. The plan was to focus on the defensive side of things, and Norris was decidedly a bat-first option.

But then, in the very first inning, the most "A's" thing possible happened. Billy Butler (then a Royal) got caught napping at first base and was picked off by Jon Lester -- and Lester is notorious for never throwing to first, so it took an egregious gaffe by Butler to attract the lefty's attention. The third out was a foregone conclusion at that point, but Eric Hosmer decided to make the most of the situation and raced home from third, just in case the A's blew a routine play. The throw came home and Hosmer was out by a mile, but he still insisted on seeing the play through 100% and forced Soto to make a hard tag on his hard slide. The contact between the two players looked completely routine, but something went just wrong enough for Soto to injure his thumb on the tag.

Soto caught one more inning and then was replaced by Norris in the third. The A's had lost their secret weapon, the strong-armed catcher who was supposed to keep the Royals' running game in check, to a fluke play resulting from a mental error by the opposing team. Kansas City stole six bases off of Norris in 10 innings, and the rest is history.

The A's got a nice boost from Soto this year, even though the magic fell short in the Wild Card game. He was healthy enough to play a handful of games down the stretch, and he did well the things that he's known for doing well (hitting lefties, playing defense, throwing out runners). His tenure here was short, as he's a free agent and unlikely to return, but he was one of the few things that went right in the second half of the 2014 regular season. That's not a bad legacy to leave.

2014 season grade, relative to expectations: A- ... I expected a guy who, if he didn't hurt himself again, had a shot at being a competent stopgap every few days and had a little bit of upside. I got the upside. He hit reasonably well, he drove in some runs, he drew some walks, and he excelled defensively. I couldn't have asked for much more out of a scrap-heap catcher picked up as an emergency at the last minute, though he could have dropped the minus on his A by hitting a couple home runs and/or really exploding at the plate rather than being merely average with the bat.

2014 season grade, overall: C- ... He was the perfect player at the perfect time for the A's, but overall Soto didn't really have a great year. He only played 24 games due to injuries, and he didn't hit at all in his few games in Texas. All told, he was a competent backup catcher who couldn't actually get on the field for the most part.

Video highlights

Soto has some power.

In the second half of the season, he was one of the few players on the team who was able to come up with big hits with runners on base.

And hey, this was pretty nifty.

The arm we all wished the A's could have had behind the plate against the Royals.

Here's the stupid play that knocked Soto out of the Wild Card game and effectively ended his season. I guess you can never fault a guy for trying as hard as he can on the field, but I mean, what was Hosmer really doing here? Was there any real chance for him to score? Was the slide even necessary? Possibly so, but man, what a bummer of a way to get hurt and what an inopportune time for it to happen.

***

The big trade that happened last night sent fellow backstop Norris out of town. Although his departure frees up a spot for a catcher who hits right-handed, Soto will probably sign elsewhere and the A's are more likely to go with new acquisition Josh Phegley. But I enjoyed watching Geo while he was here, and his 14 games will go down as a positive footnote in A's lore, along with the tantalizing mirage of what could have been if he'd been able to play the entire Wild Card game.