The first full day of Winter Meetings is underway in San Diego. Joel Sherman of the New York Post, speaking to Beane, says that "Beane is going to take a big-picture look at his roster. Yes, he wants to win as much as possible next season -- as evidenced by the three-year, $30 million signing of Billy Butler -- but the growing strength of the division informs Beane he might have to take two steps back to take many more forward in the coming years."
The 23 non-pitchers that had a plate appearance for the Athletics combined for 23.6 WAR.
|Oakland Athletics batting, 2014|
The most obvious positive departures from this list are Josh Donaldson, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jed Lowrie. Anti-producers Alberto Callaspo, Daric Barton, and Jonny Gomes are free agents. Adam Dunn is retired, and Billy Burns will assuredly start next year in Triple-A Nashville.
Additions so far are Brett Lawrie and Billy Butler. With these additions, Fangraphs actually projects the A's will only lose half a win from where they were last year, but the assumptions to get there require some explanation:
Explaining the projected depth chart
The number of plate appearances Fangraphs assigns is a bit curious, but is easily explained by how Fangraphs resolves the logjam that exists between first base and the outfield. Josh Reddick is essentially considered the everyday right fielder. Coco Crisp the everyday center fielder. Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry are expected to platoon in left field. Brandon Moss is going to get most of the plate appearances at first base.
John Jaso is also considered exclusively a designated hitter, and the catcher position is divided evenly between Stephen Vogt and Derek Norris.
This confusion is simply a product of the fact that we're not nearly done with this offseason, with many questions left unanswered. Ike Davis is clearly going to take over the platoon at first base vs. right-handed pitching, and Brandon Moss remains the subject of trade rumors. Ike Davis' presence also makes one wonder about John Jaso's place on the roster, because even without Brandon Moss, he is behind Ike Davis at first base and it remains unclear if he'll catch ahead of Stephen Vogt.
If Brandon Moss is traded away
Without Brandon Moss, Ike Davis and Billy Butler should essentially platoon first base. Nate Freiman may get some time in September or in an injury situation, so say Ike Davis gets 420 first base plate appearances, Billy Butler 210, and Nate Freiman 70. At the position you're looking at something like Davis adding a win to get to about 1.5 wins, and Butler makes up the other 0.5.
Fangraphs has Moss projected to earn about another half-win in the corner outfield and DH positions over 140 plate appearances, which can be redistributed, though it does reduce Oakland's outfield depth. Still, you're already back to even, and we haven't even talked about whatever the A's get back for Moss.
This is a surprising result, losing Brandon Moss not costing anything. Why might it be wrong? Depth. Brandon Moss' ability to play in the outfield allowed Stephen Vogt to play first base when Vogt could not play catcher. Stephen Vogt will have to be that swing outfielder now.
Moss might be more valuable than said because Moss is a better outfielder, and would have played more in the outfield. I think Craig Gentry and Sam Fuld will play quite a lot more center field than the Fangraphs depth chart projects, which gives Moss more chances to play left field when Ike Davis is playing first base.
Room to improve: middle infield
The most obvious weakness that we've been talking to death about is the need to improve the middle infield. Here is the Fangraphs projection:
Sogard's uptick to 1.4 wins from 0.3 is primarily a projection that his batting average of balls in play will return close to the .299 league average, it was just .251 in 2014. He did that in his first full season in 2013 with a .301 BABIP, and his line drive percentage of 23.9% in 2014 was just a tick above the league average of 20.8%.
Shortstop is the best place to go for an upgrade, and even take a chance on a young player with high upside, because the gulf to what the A's would have gotten anyway is so small.
Something more radical?
I keep struggling with how Sam Fuld is going to help the A's. His primary asset is defense, but if Coco Crisp gets run out to center field and Fuld is primarily going to spell Crisp, Fuld's defensive value is wasted as a left fielder.
Crisp looked terrible at center field last year, and I suspect it has to do with the neck problem that bothered him all year. He has not been great in center since 2010. Crisp has played left field before, but he wants to play center field, as he told Bob Nightengale of USA Today during spring training of 2012 after Yoenis Cespedes was named the starting center fielder:
"No, I wouldn't have come back here as a left fielder,'' said Crisp, who signed a two-year, $14 million free-agent contract in January. "I would have signed with Tampa.
"But that said, I'm glad I'm back here. I love the guys that are here in the clubhouse. The family situation was right for me. The location was right for me.
"The only thing that has changed now is my thought I was going to play a certain position.''
Then again, times are different. Crisp has his deal, signed as if he were a center fielder, and that deal runs out as early as 2016 at an age when many players contemplate retirement. A move to left field would hurt his value at free agency, but his age and recent injury history will do that to him before long.
Let's talk about it
What are your big moves for moving things around to boost the team to another postseason appearance?