The Oakland Athletics currently have two first basemen. One is Brandon Moss, and the other is really unpopular. Moss is a left-handed hitter who destroys right-handed pitching, but has been just decent (at best) against lefties during his career (though he's off to a good start against southpaws in 2014). However, given Oakland's affinity for platoon advantages, being "just decent" against pitchers of one hand is not enough for Bob Melvin's tastes.
Therefore, the skipper would prefer to have a right-handed platoon partner to pair with Moss. The only requirement is that the platoon partner must also play competent defense, because the A's are not interested in teaching someone to play first base from scratch (like Alberto Callaspo or Derek Norris) just to get another right-handed bat in the order. That has left them with Daric Barton, who is left-handed but has reverse platoon splits and is the best defender in the organization at his position. Unfortunately, Barton is not hitting at all and his defense, fairly or not, has been defined by the huge, game-changing anecdotal blunders he's made rather than the overall above-average performance.
Enter the trade rumors. With Nate Freiman still marinating in Triple-A, will the A's go after a new player to fill this hole? Will they make a big splash, or will Billy Beane go after his next hidden gem and create a Brandon Moss mirror image in the same way that he plucked Moss himself from oblivion? (I'm imaging a player named Ssom Nodnarb who is a physical mirrored twin of Moss and who feels pain whenever Moss is hit by a pitch and vice versa, a la Tomax and Xamot from G.I. Joe. But I digress ...)
Well, Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish brings us the first name on the rumor mill: Kyle Blanks. And if you have been following the A's for the last 10 years and know who Blanks is, his mention shouldn't surprise you at all. In fact, you've probably been expecting this news for several years now, since Blanks is just the kind of Custian, Allenish, Kilalike, Foxtype, Durazoid, Quadruple-A, no-defense slugger that Beane loves to take a flyer on. At some point in these guys' careers, when no one else is looking, Beane will give them each a trial to see if they can go full Chris Davis. It might be Blanks' turn soon. I actually wrote this article four years ago, and have just been waiting to post it until Beane went after Blanks.
To give you an idea of who Blanks his, here are his career stat lines from Triple-A and MLB:
Blanks, AAA (581 PA's): .295/.394/.568, 33 homers, 72 walks, 135 K's
Blanks, MLB (806 PA's): .228/.310/.401, 28 homers, 71 walks, 242 K's
His Triple-A line is basically one full season that would earn a man MVP votes in the Majors. His MLB line is worse, but it's still exactly league-average (100 OPS+). On the downside, that MLB line is inflated by a strong rookie season in 2009; by the "what have you done for me lately" rule, you can cut off that year and consider that he batted .222/.298/.372 in 634 PA's since 2010. On the bright side, he's still drawing walks and hitting homers at the big league level despite his struggles. He hasn't been all bad, and they can't all be 2006 Frank Thomas.
Blanks is an Adam Dunn-sized right-hander who surprisingly has average to slightly above-average defensive metrics at both first base and left field. I'm not going to assume that means that he's a good defender, but it suggests to me that he's at least passable and that he won't try to catch fly balls in his mouth like Cust did.
But we're A's fans, so we don't care what your overall numbers are. Show us those sweet, sweet splits, baby. You won't be facing right-handers anyway; what can you do against lefties?
Blanks vs. LHP, career: 259 PA's, .237/.336/.397, 32 walks, 58 K's
Blanks vs. RHP, career: 547 PA's, .224/.298/.403, 39 walks, 184 K's
Blanks vs. LHP, 2013: 118 PA's, .282/.373/.456, 12 walks, 26 K's
Blanks vs. RHP, 2013: 190 PA's, .220/.263/.333, 7 walks, 59 K's
Blanks had huge platoon splits in 2013, but so did Derek Norris and we've spent all year decrying that as a small-sample fluke. Blanks' minor league splits (not listed here) do favor his performance against lefties, unlike Norris', but the difference isn't huge there either. And the discrepancy disappears nearly completely when you look at his entire MLB career. Well, it disappears if you're just looking at his percentages.
If you want to see Blanks' platoon splits, look at his strikeout and walk numbers. He retains his power against righties, meaning that he can still punish an occasional mistake, but he is otherwise completely lost against them. He is just flailing like Chris Carter did in his initial MLB trials. But against lefties, that zone tightens up and he starts making contact while still drawing his walks. Even if you gave me the .733 OPS (his career vs. LHP) with pop and plate discipline and average defense in two corner positions, that would be better than what Freiman gave the A's last year, better than what Barton is doing right now, and better than Moss has done in his career against southpaws. And for a whopping $988,000, it would cost virtually nothing to give him a shot. San Diego's reported asking price for Blanks is Jake Goebbert, who is so important that I had to look up his name just now to make sure I spelled it right. If you claim to have heard of Goebbert and say that you'll miss if him if he's traded, then go take a lap for lying to me.
Is Kyle Blanks the answer for the A's at first base? Hell, I don't know. Baseball is a sport whose plotline is written by M. Night Shyamalan, full of twists and turns that you never saw coming. Bartolo Colon actually died of a heart attack five years ago, but the fact that he's been dead all along won't be revealed until he's scheduled to pitch Game 7 of the World Series in October (his positive PED test was for ectoplasm). You can't guess what will happen. But Blanks is exactly the type of player who will fill the void next to Moss, as a no-risk, moderate-reward right-hander with power who can play defense and be picked up for a song. The real question is, why wouldn't the A's give him a chance?
And if Blanks doesn't work out, then maybe someone can give Olmedo Saenz a call.