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Oakland A’s sign outfielder Alejandro De Aza to minor league contract

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s signed outfielder Alejandro De Aza to a minor league contract on Friday, reports Jane Lee of De Aza is not on the 40-man roster, but he’ll be a non-roster invite at spring training (via Joe Stiglich, CSN).

De Aza is a left-handed outfielder. He’s played all three spots in MLB, but most of his time has come in CF and LF. Overall his defense has hovered around average, with stints of both positive and negative performance. When he’s been asked to play CF regularly he’s been a bit stretched, but he’s capable of covering that position in spurts and of being a slight plus as a regular LF. His throwing arm has received consistently negative marks on both UZR and DRS.

At the plate, De Aza has also been generally average in his career. As an everyday player from 2012-14 (mostly for the White Sox), he posted a 101 wRC+; in a part-time role in 2015 (with three different teams), he managed a 104 mark; and for his career he’s at 98. However, he tanked last season for the Mets, which is one reason he’s so easily available:

De Aza, 2016: 267 PAs, .205/.297/.321, 72 wRC+, 6 HR, 9.7% BB, 25.1% Ks, -0.3 WAR*

* average of -0.4 bWAR and -0.2 fWAR

Still, from 2011-15 he averaged 2.1 fWAR and 1.3 bWAR, and at 33 years old next season he has time to bounce back from an off-year. His poor 2016 was split up into an atrocious first half and a decent second half, which is one encouraging sign for a player’s immediate future outlook. A look at his career numbers gives an idea of what to hope for if he returns to his previous form:

De Aza, career: 2,808 PAs, .261/.328/.398, 98 wRC+, 51 HR, 7.9% BB, 21.6% Ks, 90 SB (at 67%)

A decent hitter, gets on base a little bit if the hits are falling, some modest power, completely average plate discipline, and some speed but not a true burner. Toss in mediocre defense at two spots, and you have yourself a potentially viable MLB outfielder who can handle CF, which is a scarce commodity in Oakland right now.

The A’s current outfield features Khris Davis, Rajai Davis, and Matt Joyce as the primary starters from left to right. Joyce should be a strict platoon player, so a smart bet would be Jake Smolinski joining him as a right-handed partner. The other thing the A’s could really use is a left-handed batter who can help out in CF, and that’s exactly what De Aza is. His main competitors in that skill profile are prospect Jaycob Brugman and fellow non-roster man Jaff Decker. One way or other, whether in Oakland or in Triple-A Nashville, his path to playing time was potentially eased a bit with the DFA of Brett Eibner on Friday.

Hot take: To be honest, De Aza is better than I realized, especially in terms of his respectability in OBP and defense. He’s not a star, but the A’s are starved for outfield depth and he immediately becomes one of their better bench options. He’s another veteran stopgap, but if a prospect like Matt Olson or Jaycob Brugman forces his way into playing time in the outfield then the only way I can see De Aza getting in the way is if he is truly playing well. And if that happens, then I don’t think any of us will be complaining.

The A’s have signed many minor league free agents this winter, as all teams do every year. Of that group, De Aza immediately strikes me as the one most likely to get playing time in Oakland, if not outright make the team out of camp. Here are some of the others whom I’ve posted about this offseason, and I plan to profile the rest before spring training starts (but MLB signings took precedence this month!):