Sam Fuld's spot in the Oakland Athletics organization became tenuous after the A's acquired Khris Davis from the Milwaukee Brewers on February 12, and even more so after the A's picked up Chris Coghlan on February 25. Forst described Coghlan as a "Zobrist-type guy," according to CSN California's Joe Stiglich. Among many positions for Coghlan, "Center field is a good option depending on the health of other guys," Forst said.
Manager Bob Melvin was not so ready to write off Sam Fuld, however, in talking with A's beat reporters today. Reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, "Manager Bob Melvin said Saturday that Fuld, who is out of options, is highly valued by the club because he's a 'plus-plus' defender at all three outfield spots, and he suggested there will still be room for him."
Among the three players most likely to backup center field --- Fuld, Coghlan, and Coco Crisp --- Fuld is the superior defender. Fuld is more likely to stay on the field than Crisp, whose neck issues have slowed him down when they haven't taken him out of the lineup. Coghlan has mainly stuck to left field, where advanced defensive metrics have rated him, for his career, anywhere between around average (a -1.3 UZR/150) to awful (-12.2 DRS/150).
The trouble for Fuld has been that he's never been a great hitter, and he was terrible at the plate last year. His .227/.307/.325 career line is good for a 79 wRC+, which is 22nd worst out of 243 active players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances. His .197/.276/.293 line for a 60 wRC+ in 2015 was 11th worst out of 268 batters with at least 300 plate appearances.
The Steamer projection system anticipates a regression back towards his career norms, and Slusser also mentions Fuld was watching Josh Donaldson as a model for hitting adjustments, but even if the 34-year-old Fuld can maintain the high level of defensive play that he has demonstrated the last few years, another player has to give way as the roster is currently constructed:
|Anticipated 13 position players (Category according to spring training roster)|
|1. Phegley||3. Alonso||9. Burns|
|2. Vogt||4. Butler||10. Coghlan|
|5. Canha||11. Crisp|
|6. Lowrie||12. Davis|
|7. Semien||13. Reddick|
If there's a spot for Sam Fuld, either Billy Butler is on the way out or somebody gets hurt
Bob Melvin saying Sam Fuld can still earn a spot on the roster should be carried in tension with David Forst telling us at Fanfest, "On paper, there's no reason to believe [Billy Butler] doesn't get back to the player we signed. So that's clearly important for our club if he's going to take a lot of DH at-bats."
That conditional sentiment has not stopped the A's from trying to move Butler and at least some of his salary in the weeks after FanFest on January 24, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Moving Butler off the roster potentially opens up designated hitter chances for a lot of players (at the expense of seeing if Butler really does improve). Chris Coghlan, Mark Canha, and Coco Crisp all stand to gain DH plate appearances, and maybe Khris Davis too, depending on how the A's evaluate his defense.
The other obvious way for Sam Fuld and Billy Butler to make it to the opening day roster is for an injury to take place that requires a trip to the disabled list. Coghlan and Canha can step into most of whatever plate appearances are vacated, with Fuld a choice to back up in the outfield.
If you want to find creative ways to keep Sam Fuld on the roster and not release anyone or wish injury upon someone, perhaps the A's love Mark Canha so much that they give him the Kris Bryant treatment and send him to Triple-A for a few weeks to, I don't know, "work on his fielding" or "get into a rhythm" while gaining an extra year of club control over Canha. There's a point at which "don't rule out Sam Fuld" becomes ridiculous, and bald service time manipulation has not really been part of the A's front office playbook, but you never know. I'm just laying out all the options.
Ultimately, Fuld's chances come down to how the A's evaluate Billy Butler, Fuld himself, and the health of the squad. In that sense, Bob Melvin is right, you can't count Fuld out just yet.