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Crisp and Butler won't kill the A's in 2016

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Previous World Series winners had their own version of the double play machine.

Butler can't even Bernie lean.
Butler can't even Bernie lean.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

We are all too aware of the two seemingly wasted contracts on the A's payroll. Billy Butler (2/$20) and Coco Crisp (1/$11 with a vesting option) are a constant source of distress on AN. But should we really worry about these two players?

I'm in love with the...Canha?

The first reason to ease your worries about the two players is the fact that the former isn't a primary option for the A's going forward. With Canha presumably manning left, Burns in center, and Reddick in right, any contribution from Crisp is icing on the cake. The A's don't appear to expect him to contribute, and rightfully so. The A's also have Andrew Lambo, Jake Smolinski (of A's farm), and Sam Fuld as potential options.

What can we expect from Canha in left? It's hard to say exactly, but you probably know how bullish AN is on Canha. Last year alone, Canha was worth almost 2 more wins than Crisp by bWAR in limited playing time.

What about their contracts?

The fact that Coco Crisp might be on the bench for the majority of 2016 doesn't change the fact that he's being paid a large portion of the payroll to do so. Billy Butler will also likely be paid a lot to contribute negatively. To find out just how common and impactful contracts like these are, I looked at the previous 5 World Series winners to see how often these types of contracts occur. The criteria I used for a similar contract was anything over $5 million for a player who put up around .5 bWAR or less. A little arbitrary? You betcha! But I think it captures the general gist. I used Baseball-Reference as my source for all the numbers below.

Team Player 2015 bWAR Salary (milllions) % of total payroll Non-wasted Payroll
2015 Oakland A's Coco Crisp -0.7 $11 13.20%
Team Payroll: $82.9 Billy Butler -0.8 $10 12%
Eric O'Flaherty -0.6 $5.5 6.6%
Totals -2.1 $26.5 31.8% $56.40
2015 Royals Alex Rios -1.1 $11 9%
Team Payroll: $121.6 Omar Infante -0.8 $7.5 6.1%
Jeremy Guthrie -1.8 $9 7.4%
Greg Holland 0.2 $8.25 6.7%
Jason Vargas 0.3 $8.5 6.9%
Totals -3.2 $44.25 36.1% $77.35
2014 Giants Marco Scutaro -0.3 $6.6 4%
Team Payroll: $163.5 Tim Lincecum -0.7 $17 10.3%
Matt Cain 0.1 $20 12.2%
Sergio Romo 0.3 $5.5 3.3%
Totals -0.6 $49.1 29.8% $114.40
2013 Red Sox Joel Hanrahan -0.5 $7 3.9%
Team Payroll: $178.4 Ryan Dempster -0.2 $13.25 7.4%
Matt Thorton 0.2 $5.5 3%
Jake Peavy 0.6 $14 7.8%
Total 0.1 $39.75 22.1 $138.65
2012 Giants Tim Lincecum -1.7 $18 13.7%
Team Payroll: $131.3 Brian Wilson -0.1 $8.5 6.4%
Barry Zito 0.2 $19 14.4%
Totals -1.6 45.5 34.65% $85.80
2011 Cardinals Jake Westbrook -0.2 $8 7%
Team Payroll: $109
Totals -0.2 $8 7% $101

A few important notes before we dive into some analysis:

  • Estimating payroll is always a bit tenuous as it's sometimes unclear how much of the salary was paid by which team in the event of a trade.
  • Playoff teams' payrolls will be elevated due to deadline acquisitions. Bad teams (like the 2015 A's) will give up good players at the deadline and stick with bad players in a lost season.
So what do we make of the numbers above? It's pretty clear that bad contracts are abundant in MLB, even among competitive or championship teams. Each of those championship teams overcame a bad contract by some means - the Royals bought Zobrist at the deadline to overcome Omar Infante, the Giants rode a heroic effort from Yusmeiro Petit.

It's important to note that most everyone on the list above is a pitcher: of the 20 players listed, only 5 are position players, 2 of whom were the subject of this article. It stands to reason that having an awful contract pitcher is better than having an awful contract hitter. Teams anticipate pitcher attrition and the sheer number of rotation and bullpen slots makes a disappointing pitcher less disastrous. Roster size doesn't allow the same for position players, as most teams can't carry 2 DHs on the 25 man roster . That said, the Royals managed to overcome two position player contracts worse than Coco/Butler. If Rangel Ravelo were to come slash .280/.350/.430 and Mark Canha were to take another step forward, Coco/Butler's contracts won't enter your mind.

Teams also can get by with a bad offensive player. Alex Rios was a disaster last season, Billy Butler was on the Royals the year before, and the list goes on. Below you'll find other players who were offensive non-contributors to championship (or in one case, pennant) teams.

Team Player Slash Line OPS+ bWAR
2015 Royals Alex Rios .255/.287/.353 73 -1.1
2013 Red Sox Will Middlebrooks .227/.271/.425 87 -0.1
2013 Cardinals Pete Kozma .217/.275/.273 53 -0.3
2012 Giants Brandon Crawford .248/.304/.348 86 2.4
2011 Cardinals Ryan Theriot .271/.321.342 85 0.1
Most of these guys are middle infielders so the pressure will be on Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien (and the rest of the lineup) to produce more to offset Butler. But it's certainly doable.

The A's have overcome this before

I anticipate a sticking point from above will be the A's payroll compared to other teams. It's true the A's have a lot less payroll to work with, but even with their low payroll ways the A's can succeed with bad contracts. Let's look at the recent 3 year playoff run:

Team Player 2015 bWAR Salary (milllions) % of total payroll Non-wasted Payroll
2014 A's Jim Johnson -1.3 $10 12.1%
Team Payroll: $82.3
Totals -1.3 $10 12.1% $72.30
2013 A's Chris Young -0.2 $8.5 13.7%
Team Payroll: $61.9 Brett Anderson -0.8 $5.75 9.3%
Totals -1 $14.25 23% $47.65
2012 A's Brian Fuentes -0.7 $5 9.4%
Team Payroll: $52.87
Totals -0.7 $5 9.4% $47.87

So, this isn't something new for the A's (or many big league teams). Like I mentioned above, the fact that these are two position players who were projected to start is important, especially in 2015 when there was no clear contingency plan. For 2016, the A's are seemingly prepared for both players to contribute squat.

Conclusion

In the process of overcoming their 2 worst contracts, the A's have taken a huge step by replacing Crisp with Canha. Overcoming just Butler is certainly doable, and the 2014 Kansas City Royals literally did it on their way to an AL Pennant. If the rest of the lineup can step up, the A's can certainly compete with Butler as their DH and Crisp as a role player.

While it's easy to think of Crisp and Butler as major failures, the most successful teams have similar versions. The money used on Crisp/Butler easily could have been spent on a similar failure. Signing free agents is hard, and the A's have been solid in this realm.

Some final thoughts before I go:

  • This is mostly a thought experiment. The methodology won't win any awards and I'm fully aware of that. If you see any problems with my thought process, please feel free to mention them below!
  • I'm still holding out hope that one or both of these guys can be a non disaster in 2016. We see it all the time where a player is paid double digit millions only to be firmly below average (1 WAR or so) without sinking his team. It'd be neat if one of these dudes could pull that off
  • The A's payrolls in 12/13 were hilarious: the 2012 team had exactly three players who even qualified for the first list (salary >$5 million)
  • It must be nice to be a big league baseball player making a big league salary