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Mark Canha will find the playing time he deserves after the Khris Davis trade

Canha will get his plate appearances, whether the A's get rid of Billy Butler, acquire Matt Kemp, or stand pat.

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

After the Oakland Athletics acquired Khris Davis and general manager David Forst told reporters that he'd be the starting left fielder, the first question that came to my mind was, "What happens to Mark Canha?" With Yonder Alonso taking most of the plate appearances at first base, there didn't seem to be many obvious chances to get him on the field outside the 200 or so plate appearances he might get against a left-hander.

But regular days off for Davis should get him some of the way there, and it's not impossible that if the A's want Canha to be an everyday hitter they might try him at right field this spring. The plate appearance distribution might look something like this, allowing for Josh Reddick and Yonder Alonso's injury history, and assuming Sam Fuld is released after all these players get through spring healthy:

1B-DH-OF plate appearances, 2016 estimate
Pos. Player vs. LHP vs. RHP TOTAL
1B-OF Mark Canha 150 50 150 100 150 600
LF Khris Davis 200 400 600
CF Billy Burns 200 400 600
RF Josh Reddick 150 350 500
DH Billy Butler 200 300 500
1B Yonder Alonso 50 350 400
LF-CF Coco Crisp 100 200 300
TOTAL 200 200 200 200 200 500 500 500 500 500

This table may look familiar to you, because it's pretty much the same one I used advocating the signing of Austin Jackson and rotating him through the outfield positions, but with Canha becoming the rotating corner outfielder and first baseman. It also comports to David Forst's playing time comments, reported by the San Francisco Chronicle's John Shea:

"If Coco's healthy and can be out there, we've always said we'll find a spot for him," Forst said. "Mark's going to find a way to get at-bats. He did last year. I expect he'll do the same thing this year."

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports has reported that the A's continue to try to move designated hitter Billy Butler and perhaps some of his salary. There are a couple of options that keep Mark Canha to the positions he knows well if Butler's offseason conditioning program is not the panacea we hope it is.

Call up an outfielder and release Billy Butler

The free option is to call up one of the outfielders already on the 40-man roster: the left-handed batting Andrew Lambo, the right-handed batting Tyler Ladendorf, or the right-handed batting Jake Smolinski:

1B-DH-OF plate appearances, 2016 estimate w/o Billy Butler
Pos. Player vs. LHP vs. RHP TOTAL
1B-LF Mark Canha 200 100 100 200 600
LF Khris Davis 200 400 600
CF Billy Burns 200 400 600
RF Josh Reddick 150 350 500
DH Coco Crisp 50 100 150 300
OF Lambo/Ladendorf/Smolinski 50 150 150 150 500
1B Yonder Alonso 400 400
TOTAL 200 200 200 200 200 500 500 500 500 500

Instead of playing in right field, Canha picks up plate appearances as the designated hitter when Davis, Burns, Reddick, and Alonso are in the field and Crisp is unavailable to start. The outfielder called up is getting a lot of playing time, however, and one wonders if the A's might be willing to pay for an upgrade that can play right field in a pinch.

Enter Matt Kemp

The San Diego Padres have listened to offers for outfielder Matt Kemp and have talked to the Oakland Athletics, reports Robert Murray of Baseball Essential, but it's unclear to Murray's source if these rumored trade talks moved beyond the preliminary stage. The San Diego Union-Tribune's Jeff Sanders downplayed those discussions:

Talks surrounding Kemp, however, [have] quieted in recent weeks, according to a source. Even then, the Padres haven't been pushing to trade their top returning run-producer as much as they've entertained any and all interest in their assets.

This close to spring training, they'd prefer to keep Matt Kemp.

While Kemp's offense was down in 2015, he didn't have a bad year for a bat-only player like Billy Butler in 2014 (.271/.323/.379, 97 wRC+) or Kendrys Morales in 2014 (.218/.274/.338, 72 wRC+). He hit .265/.312/.443 in San Diego for a 109 wRC+ and had seasons topping a 140 wRC+ in three of the last five seasons.

On defense, Kemp is a poor corner outfielder (don't even think about center field) with arthritic hips. I did not know it was possible for an outfielder, in runs above replacement parlance, to end up close to 10 runs worse than the -17.5 runs assigned to a full season of a designated hitter, but there's Matt Kemp.

Wait a minute though. If Matt Kemp would improve by simply not playing defense, there's a win-win solution for both sides possible here that Jeff Sullivan points out in his FanGraphs chat on February 12:

Padres send Kemp and money, A's send Butler and a low-level prospect or two, Padres immediately dump Butler, Padres PR tries to emphasize the prospects' strengths.


The A's get to play with a DH and the Padres don't.

I'm trying to imagine a universe in which Matt Kemp is a better defender than Mark Canha would be in right field, and I just don't see it, so I think Canha would still have to learn right field. If Kemp had to play in right, the best you could do is try to protect him by only playing him when left-hander Rich Hill is pitching, so that the defense is mostly facing right-handers with a tendency to pull to left field.

1B-DH-OF plate appearances, 2016 estimate w/Matt Kemp
Pos. Player vs. LHP vs. RHP TOTAL
1B-LF Mark Canha 200 100 100 150 550
LF Khris Davis 200 400 600
CF Billy Burns 200 400 600
RF Josh Reddick 150 350 500
LF Coco Crisp 50
100 100 250
RF-DH Matt Kemp 50 150 400 600
1B Yonder Alonso 400 400
TOTAL 200 200 200 200 200 500 500 500 500 500
Swapping Kemp and Butler

The Padres are on the hook for $70 million of the $84 million owed to Kemp over the next four seasons. Meanwhile, the A's have $20 million remaining on Billy Butler's deal through 2017. If the A's and Padres both consider Butler nothing more than part of the pay off, to make the trade work out is to figure out what is the difference between Kemp's value over the next four years as a designated hitter and $50 million.

DH-only everyday players are pretty rare these days, and even rarer are ones that are only 31 years old. A good lower bound for figuring out his value is Billy Butler himself going into his age 29 season, where he earned three years and $30 million betting on a bounceback campaign. Kemp should be worth more than the $10 million a year, then.

For an upper bound, let's look at Nick Swisher at the end of 2012, going into his age-32 season. After being tagged with a qualifying offer, he signed a four-year, $56 million deal with the Cleveland Indians with a vesting option. The Indians gave up their second round draft pick, which should be valued somewhere on the order of $4-5 million. So call it a deal with $15 million average annual value in 2013 money, and maybe bump it up to $17.5 million to get to 2016 dollars. This gives us high and low bounds for Kemp's average annual value.

So let's go back to our equation: Matt Kemp's contract - Billy Butler's contract - Matt Kemp's value + Billy Butler's value = What the Padres need to give up/(receive if negative) to make the deal work.

$70 - $20 - ($40 to $70) + $0 = Somewhere between the Padres owe $10 million and are owed $20 million of value.

You might disagree with me on the range, but this should give you a sense of how to think about a potential swap of "bad" contracts.

If the A's don't take any cash from the Padres, their payroll would go up $7.5 million for each of the next two seasons and $17.5 million in 2018 and 2019. At the moment, 2018 payroll projects around to be in the low $60 millions, so no cash considerations would represent a bet that current prospects will play well enough to replace the more expensive parts of the roster at that point, such as the current crop of infield prospects successfully advancing. (Of course, projecting the A's roster in two year's time is a fool's errand.)

The more cash they take from the Padres, the bigger the cost in prospects.

Mark Canha will get his plate appearances

If anybody is going to make sure Mark Canha gets 500 or more plate appearances in 2016, it's Bob Melvin, the master of the platoon. Any move the A's make in the outfield will allow for that, and Canha might gain some more positional versatility in the process.

A Kemp-Butler swap would represent a double down on Oakland's bet on a designated hitter coming off a down year. Whether the A's make a serious run at Kemp depend on to what further extent the front office will delve into its prospects now that they've broken the seal with Jacob Nottingham and Bubba Derby.