The A's have been forced to work around some dead weight on their payroll this offseason. Two players in particular (and their gaudy contracts) have prohibited Oakland's ability to spend a bit bigger in free agency. The first is a fan favorite, outfielder Covelli 'Coco' Crisp. The second is a fan opposite-of-favorite, Billy 'insert overused fat joke here' Butler.
Many fans want both players off the payroll, but that likely isn't going to happen, as no team would want to take either salary (Crisp has 10-5 rights as well, meaning he could block any trade). Crisp is due to earn $11 million in 2016, with a 2017 option that is very unlikely to vest, and Butler is owed $10 million for each of the next two seasons. Both are blocking younger, potentially more talented players and the team would probably be better off without both of them. However, as things stand today, the A's are probably stuck with both.
But maybe that's not a horrible thing.
Butler is his own story. An above-average hitter as recently as 2013, Butler could easily bounce back to his old ways. He could also flop, of course, which would be unsurprising as well. Billy Butler has done one thing remarkably well, however, for his entire career - play baseball games.
Butler has averaged 157 games played per season over the past seven years. That's astounding! He has played in 1,101 games since the start of the 2009 season, ranking third in the big leagues during that span behind only Adrian Gonzalez and Robinson Cano. Say what you will about his physique, but Butler has stayed healthy throughout his entire career. If Butler is performing well next year, chances are, he'll give the A's at least 150 games.
Coco, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. He's averaged 97 games per season over that span, with his highest total being 136 games in 2011 and only appearing in 44 games last season. Now 36, Coco's all-out style of play has caused his body to deteriorate, and last year, those injuries affected Crisp's performance in a big way. He was worth -0.4 fWAR (-0.7 bWAR) and posted a wRC+ of 35, easily career worsts. He wasn't Coco anymore.
Almost everyone has given up on the crazy-haired outfielder, as many are calling for the release of the former fan favorite. Everyone still loves Coco as a person, and wishes him the best. But, his presence probably isn't best for the team, especially if he blocks playing time from youngsters like Jake Smolinski and Andrew Lambo.
Chances are, Coco Crisp will be an Athletic in 2016, at least for the beginning of the season. But I can promise you, that won't hurt the A's.
This post was inspired by a comment left by fearless leader Alex Hall on yesterday's Josh Phegley article. In it, Alex wrote...
Last year, through August 4, Coco spent all but 17 days on the DL (including the first month).
Chances are, Coco will get hurt at some point in 2016. In fact, I'd put serious money down on it, if anyone here were dumb enough to bet against that. I'm not rooting for it, but it's inevitable. For that period of time, breakout candidates like Smolinski and Lambo will be given their chances to show the A's what they can bring to the table.
When Coco does play, however, I'd wager he'll be significantly better than he was in 2015. Why? First of all, his BABIP was an anemic .218. While his strikeouts were up and his walks were down (likely a result of his injury/age-based decline), Coco can still bounce back from his 139 pathetic plate appearances last year. Even as beat up as he is, Coco isn't a 35 wRC+ hitter. I'm not expecting above-average offense, but something in the range of a 75-85 wRC+ definitely isn't out of the question. In fact, the Steamer projection system predicts a rebound all the way to an 89 wRC+ (albeit in only 92 games).
Offense isn't all there is to Coco's game. In spite of the injuries and a shift to left field due to his noodle arm, Coco posted positive defensive ratings in 2015. His 1.9 UZR and 12.2 UZR/150 were his highest since 2010 (6.9 and 14.6, respectively). He also posted one Defensive Run Saved, compared to his -17 (yes, you read that right) in 2014. I know defensive metrics are hard to trust in large samples - let alone in tiny samples like Coco's 2015 - but he passed the eye test, too. He covered a lot of ground in left field last year, making a few highlight-reel catches and even throwing out Dustin Pedroia in May. Coco, as old as he is, is still an asset in the outfield.
Finally, Coco the person. Last season's clubhouse issues were well documented, and many of this offseason's moves (the Axford signing, Lawrie trade, etc.) seem to have been done with the team's chemistry in mind. Coco is a big part of that. His affable personality and veteran presence shines on and off the field. He still has plenty he can teach youngsters like Billy Burns, Marcus Semien and Mark Canha, and while this value isn't tangible, it's certainly there.
I'm not saying Coco will be an All-Star in 2016. Far from it, in fact - he'll be a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter, that spends his time shuttling back and forth between the disabled list, minor league rehab assignments, and the Major League roster. However, a player like that still has some value, especially if his hitting can rebound at all.
Coco won't be worth $11 million next season. But he'll certainly help the A's more than he will hurt them. Here's to hoping for a triumphant, resurgent final season from one of the most lovable Athletics of this century.