The Oakland A’s signed outfielder Robbie Grossman on Wednesday, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. It’s a one-year MLB contract. The base salary is around $2 million, adds Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle. A corresponding move has not yet been announced to make room on the 40-man roster, but presumably someone will be transferred to the 60-day injured list. (Update: Indeed, pitcher Daniel Gossett goes to the 60-day IL.)
The switch-hitting Grossman has been in the majors for the last six seasons, three each with the Astros and Twins. In Minnesota he carved out a semi-regular role on a young club trying to jump up toward contention, starting around 100 games per year from 2016-18. His calling card is elite plate discipline, as he can maintain a top-notch walk rate but also keep the strikeouts down. He doesn’t hit for a high average, and his power is modest, but his mastery of the zone and ensuing on-base ability made him an above-average hitter during his time with the Twins (numbers below in 1,310 plate appearances).
Grossman, 2016-18: .266/.371/.400, 112 wRC+, 25 HR, 13.9% BB, 19.7% Ks
Since 2016, that 13.9% walk rate ranks 12th-best in all of MLB (min 900 PAs), behind a list of mostly superstars. He achieved that mark by becoming the most patient hitter in baseball, says Eno Sarris at FanGraphs, with a Votto-level ability to not chase pitches outside the zone. Accordingly, he’s also continued to drop that strikeout rate over time, as his 2018 numbers show on their own (in 465 PAs).
Grossman, 2018: .273/.367/.384, 108 wRC+, 5 HR, 12.9% Ks, 17.8% BB
On the other side of the ball, Grossman’s play is a bit more questionable. His defense in the corner outfield spots has received brutally negative metrics, and the Twins used him at DH for about one-third of his games, though A’s fans might have one impressive memory of his glove. TJ Gorsegner, the new editor of SB Nation blog Twinkie Town, tells me Grossman is “serviceable in a corner, but not great.” Statcast says his speed is around average.
At age 29, Grossman should still be well within his prime, so there’s no particular reason to expect decline from the player described above. His only DL stints in the majors were for a fractured thumb in ‘17, and a strained hammy in ‘18, and each only cost him a couple weeks. On top of his on-field ability, Slusser also notes that he’s got a reputation as a positive clubhouse presence.
The A’s outfield was already overflowing, so it will be interesting to see who fits where and how everything shakes out. Stephen Piscotty (RF) and Ramon Laureano (CF) are presumably locked into everyday spots, with a wide assortment of names for LF that includes Nick Martini, Chad Pinder, Mark Canha, and Dustin Fowler. For what it’s worth, all four of those players still have minor league options remaining, so everyone doesn’t have to fit on the Opening Day roster, and of course Athletics Nation had already been waiting all winter to see if a surplus outfielder got traded for pitching even before this further addition.
At first glance I didn’t really get this one. The outfield was already overflowing, and on top of the current names there are also some interesting prospects reaching Triple-A who are already on the 40-man roster, plus the suggestions that Franklin Barreto could see time out there now that the infield is filled up again.
But the more I think about it, this looks like Martini insurance. Grossman is basically the same player as what we saw from Martini last year, a lefty OBP machine who can get himself on base even though he doesn’t actually hit that much. The difference is, Martini has done it for 55 games, while Grossman has proven himself over the last three seasons. So, on one hand the A’s already had Martini, but on the other hand he was far from a sure thing and now they have two of him.
Another comp is Matt Joyce, but with less power. Joyce is one of the 11 players above Grossman on that 2016-18 walk-rate list. Of course, the A’s won without Joyce last year, but that was partly because they had Martini to replace him seamlessly down the stretch. Now they’ve got a more established sequel to Joyce, and yet another hitter who can grind out the kind of long, tough at-bats that the A’s became known for last summer.
Oakland’s lineup and outfield depth chart were leaning heavily toward the right-handed side, so it’s also nice to add someone to the other batter’s box. Granted, if Grossman does directly take Martini’s spot then it won’t change the platoon balance on any given day, but the point is there is depth on both sides now.
All that said, the switch-hitting Grossman can also handle himself against left-handed pitching. Another possible arrangement could have him forming a high-OBP platoon alongside Martini rather than replacing him, though I’d have trouble seeing that happen unless one of the right-handed incumbents is about to be traded for pitching.
So there you have it. The A’s found a new Joyce to presumably push Martini down the depth chart, unless he’s actually a Martini Clone platoon partner to pair with Nick so they can have an OBP cocktail every day. Either way, while there’s a logjam of quantity in the outfield, Grossman does fit well in terms of skill set. It’s not what I was expecting the team to spend its limited remaining resources on, especially while Brett Anderson is the No. 3 starter, but I can see the logic. This Oakland roster isn’t perfect, but at least it’s absurdly deep, and it’s ready to absorb some spring injuries when they come. It’s going to be fascinating to see how it all looks in July, and who steps up along the way.