The Oakland A’s added another short-term veteran on Tuesday, signing infielder Trevor Plouffe to a one-year, $5 million contract. The move was rumored a week ago, and at the time I was not in favor of the idea. I’m still not, in general, but above all I like to keep an open mind. Plouffe is here and this is happening, so let’s walk through the pros and cons to see what we’ve got.
Pro: He was pretty good in 2014-15
Over those two seasons, Plouffe averaged 3 WAR per year, on either scale. That’s easily an everyday player. He was decent with the bat both years, with a 106 wRC+ overall (.251/.317/.429). He posted positive defensive metrics at 3B in both years as well, even though he’d only switched to the position full-time in 2013 (he came up as a SS). If we were having this conversation last winter, we’d probably all be stoked about him.
Con: He was bad and injured in 2016
Instead, we’re having this conversation this winter. Plouffe was replacement-level last year — bWAR says 0.4, fWAR says -0.4, so we’ll call it a wash. His bat slipped below average, and his fielding numbers were atrocious. The explanation isn’t difficult: He lost half the season to three DL stints (intercostal strain, fractured rib, oblique strain), plus minor knee and groin tweaks. The thing about being a bounce-back candidate is it means you need to have kind of sucked last year in order to qualify.
Pro: He’s inexpensive
The other thing about being a bounce-back candidate is that it usually means you’re cheap. In this case, cheap means a one-year deal instead of a longer commitment, it means a seven-figure salary instead of eight, and it means no draft pick lost as compensation. I wasn’t keen on adding another right-handed bat, but if the A’s were going to get something I didn’t want then I’m glad they spent small on Plouffe instead of big on Encarnacion, Bautista, or Trumbo (I know I’m in the minority on AN in not wanting those guys).
Con: There could still be opportunity cost
Of course, money is not the only resource. There is also playing time, and Plouffe figures to take a lot of it as the primary 3B (via Susan Slusser, S.F. Chronicle). That means there won’t be space there for the A’s many young infielders for most of 2017, and Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse lays out the case for why that’s a short-sighted and unproductive approach in what could have been a more youthful, future-oriented season. (Or, if you wanted to spend big on Bautista, et al, then this certainly lessens the odds of a bigger and more exciting signing.)
Pro: Ryon Healy gets on with his inevitable move
Healy wasn’t great at 3B last year, although I didn’t think he was awful either. Moving him off 3B is a defensive upgrade, and it’s also an inevitability for those of us who think Matt Chapman will be the everyday 3B by the end of 2017. May as well get on with it.
Con: But wait Yonder Alonso is already at 1B
Except ... wasn’t Alonso already the stopgap for Chapman? Now there are stopgaps at 1B and 3B, while the hotshot young rookie from last summer is relegated to DH at least part of the time? No that’s dumb, he’s perfectly capable of playing the field somewhere. This is what I’m talking about with opportunity cost -- now Healy’s playing time and development will be some amount affected by the presence of Plouffe and Alonso on a likely non-contending team. No no no. (If Alonso is traded or cut, this point is lessened because Healy can at least play 1B every day.)
Pro: At least the other prospects aren’t obviously blocked
While I’m not happy about Healy getting relegated by probably inferior players, at least he’s the only one. Chapman really does need to open the year in Triple-A, and he might need most of the year there; even if he does break out and force a quick promotion, it’s easy to see the A’s moving Plouffe to make room. Pinder can get his chances at 2B, and Olson or Nunez were already going to be tight fits even if they managed to make the team out of spring. No one on that list is so obviously ready for Opening Day that it would be criminal to leave them out, so even though I want them all here ASAP I also accept that they could probably all benefit from some more Triple-A time if that’s how the roster shakes out.
Con: Ugh, but he’s so boring
The A’s could have rolled with some rookies in the lineup right out the gate. They could have signed a big star, and Bautista is still available. Instead, they have Trevor Plouffe, a cheap 30-year-old who might be alright unless he stinks again. To go with Alonso, and Lowrie, and even Joyce and Rajai (though I like those two, but they still fit the point). Say his name out loud, and that sort of describes the humdrum feeling of thinking about him in the lineup. Ploooofff. Like the wind being let out of your sails, or an exasperated sigh. It might all work out fine in the end, and maybe loading up on stopgaps so as not to rush the rookies will turn out to be a smart move. But dang. April could involve a lot of flipping back and forth between Warriors games.
Pro: At least he’s got some power?
Here’s a fun comparison. In 2015-16, Valencia hit 35 HR in 895 PAs in his breakout performance. Plouffe hit 34 in 976 PAs, and he had an off-year in there. Granted, Valencia was a way better hitter overall (126 wRC+ to 97), but if you like dingers then we got some back, and you don’t have to sit through Valencia’s daily errors to get them. You could make an argument that Plouffe is at least less boring than Alonso, for whatever that’s worth.
Con: But why another right-handed batter?
On the other hand, I still don’t understand Oakland’s quest to find specifically a right-handed batter. They already have Khrush, Semien, Healy, and Rajai, and now a fifth everyday man in Plouffe, with mostly righty bats coming up from Triple-A (Chapman, Barreto, Pinder, Nunez vs. Olson, Brugman). It’s not necessarily a massive problem, but it will always be odd to me. For Plouffe’s career, his OPS is about 100 points higher against lefties, and his BB/K is much better too — he’d be a fine platoon player, actually, but instead half the lineup will be at the platoon disadvantage most days.
Final grade: C- ... Now that it’s done, I don’t hate it as much as I thought I would. I still don’t like it, but, eh. At the end of the day, the A’s spent $5 million on a guy easily capable of 2 WAR. He improves the team’s defense, so he addresses an actual need, and he adds a few HR to the lineup. He’s not blatantly blocking a prospect, and he might even be preventing them from being rushed. If you’re looking for bounce-back credentials, he posted a 117 wRC+ in 113 second-half plate appearances (sandwiched between injuries). It could be worse. But it couldn’t be much less interesting.