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Who plays DH for the A’s with Khris Davis gone?

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Several candidates to choose from

Oakland Athletics v Cleveland Indians
New candidates emerge as Khris exits stage left
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s trade of Khris Davis was bittersweet. It was sad to say goodbye to a longtime star favorite, but the reality is that his bat had not been helping the team for the past two seasons. In fact, he was sub-replacement-level both years.

Regardless of the quality of his production, though, the fact remains that he was getting some of the at-bats in the designated hitter spot. Had he remained, he surely would have continued to play at least a little. Now he won’t and the DH is completely open in Oakland for the first time in years.

So who takes over the lineup position? If at all possible, it would be ideal for the answer to be a left-handed batter, since there are already six righties locked into everyday duty.

In the recent past this vacancy would have taken care of itself because the A’s had four outfielders for three spots, so the DH could simply serve as overflow for that group. But now Robbie Grossman is gone, and theoretically there’s space for all of Mark Canha, Ramon Laureano, and Stephen Piscotty in the three outfield positions, if the team were to choose that arrangement.

However, there are several lefty prospects competing this spring to make the club, and any of them would profile appropriately in the general Grossman role of “corner outfielder who bats lefty so it’s not all righties out there.” From Rule 5 pick Ka’ai Tom, to prospects Seth Brown and Skye Bolt, and forgotten youngster Dustin Fowler, there’s room for someone to step up if they show they belong in March. Then it’s back to having four outfielders and choosing one of them to DH instead.

There are two more candidates among the backup ranks at other positions as well. Sean Murphy is the starting catcher and Jonah Heim was presumably his backup until being traded alongside Davis, making room for Austin Allen to compete for the role. But Allen is a bat-first backstop, and if that stick lights up in the Cactus League then he could also profile as a lefty thumper in the DH role — either in addition to backup catching duties, or as an emergency third catcher behind a more traditional backup.

Meanwhile, in the infield, Vimael Machin is competing for the second base job, though you’d have to think Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder are likelier front-runners, at least for now. But like with Allen, Machin’s strength is squarely in his bat — in Machin’s case there’s nothing wrong with his defense, but it’s not how he provides his value. If he starts hitting and they already have 2B covered well enough, he could be productive at DH in a La Stella Lite kind of way, with plate discipline and on-base skills.

Then there’s the true wild card. Jed Lowrie is back, and he basically hasn’t played in the last two seasons due to injury. His most recent hit came with the A’s in 2018, and he has only eight plate appearances in the majors since then. It’s anyone’s guess if he’ll turn up healthy enough to get back on the field this spring, but if he can swing a bat and run to second base then he could probably hit until he’s 60 years old. He’s the quintessential professional hitter.

Lowrie has always played the infield, but given the extreme height of his injury concern, perhaps that’s too much to ask. The most realistic hope could be for him to DH, which would be convenient since that position is suddenly open and the club desperately needs a lefty bat who makes a lot of contact. Forget La Stella Lite, he’s La Stella OG, not exact clones but with a similar effect.

Or, there’s the mystery option, which is that you could still sign a new player. Personally I doubt that, since Lowrie probably is that new player, but there are other names out there too. If you want to go nuts you can dream on Edwin Encarnacion, or Shin-Soo Choo, or Mitch Moreland, or even Yoenis Cespedes. But there’s a more classic A’s target available, so classic that they already targeted him once before — Jake Lamb. Why not?

Lamb had a really nice 13 games for Oakland last year, but it came after a devastatingly long slump. Did he even do enough to play his way into an MLB contract this winter, or can he be had on a minor league deal like Lowrie? This is a prime buy-low situation, almost at 2016 Rich Hill level, because if you believe at all in Lamb’s bounce-back then he could be an above-average lefty bat starting 100 games in a DH platoon and putting up a couple WAR. For what I would have to assume would be basically free in terms of acquisition and salary.

I’m not aware of any actual rumors regarding Lamb specifically, but Alex Coffey of The Athletic reported after the Davis trade that “[General manager David] Forst didn’t rule out bringing in a DH candidate from outside the organization.” Again, note that this was before Lowrie was signed, so we don’t know for sure whether it’s still a valid sentiment or if Lowrie satisfied it.

Add it all up, and here’s a list for us to begin working with. We’re talking about Opening Day and the early season, so I’m leaving out the more distant prospects like Greg Deichmann, who are likelier to show up later in the summer or next year.

DH candidates vs RHP

  • Jed Lowrie (if he’s healthy enough to play)
  • Mark Canha (with a lefty taking over LF)
  • Seth Brown
  • Ka’ai Tom
  • Austin Allen
  • Vimael Machin
  • New acquisition (free agent or trade)

Bolt and Fowler would both be plus defenders in LF as important parts of their value profiles, so they would be unlikely to end up at DH. Brown and Tom aren’t bad with the glove themselves, but don’t necessarily need to be in the field, with the caveat that we haven’t actually seen Tom play yet so it’s possible he could be a plus out there too. I left out Piscotty because he’s played two games at DH in three years in Oakland, so if a righty outfielder gets bumped then I’m betting it’s Canha as usual.

But wait! No position needs to be played by just one person, especially one that requires no defensive ability, and the A’s love to platoon. If Lowrie wins the job then he could play every day because he’s a switch-hitter, but all the other lefties on the list could be hidden against southpaws. The outfield could go back to three righty hitters, with Canha in LF. Chad Pinder might be playing second base in a platoon of his own.

With the current roster, if it’s not Lowrie or a star righty surprise signing like Encarnacion or Cespedes, then there’s not much of a platoon option for DH against southpaws. If you kept a lefty (Kemp/Machin) at 2B, then Pinder would be freed up, and he and Canha could split LF/DH.

The only way to get an extra righty in there would be if you had a second righty catcher, like Aramis Garcia, acquired in the Davis trade. It’s not clear if he can hit in the majors yet, but he definitely has power. Whether it’s a duo of him and Sean Murphy and you take the risk of using your backup as the DH for 60 games, or some creative tandem where Murphy, Garcia, and Allen all make it and the whole trio splits the DH and starting/backup catching, we can at least add them to the list.

DH candidates vs LHP

  • Jed Lowrie (if he’s healthy enough to play)
  • Chad Pinder (but a lefty has to play 2B)
  • Mark Canha (lefty at 2B, Pinder in LF)
  • Aramis Garcia
  • Sean Murphy (when he needs a day off catching)
  • New acquisition (free agent or trade)

Once again I left off Bolt, even though he’s a switch-hitter, because he’s never found any success from the right side of the plate.

Of course, the real answer is that the DH spot will probably evolve as the season progresses. Sometimes it could be used by a player nursing a minor injury, or swapped around throughout a week to give everyone a periodic half-day off, or briefly seized by a bench player on a hot streak until he cools off. But someone has to start there on Opening Day, so let’s take it one step at a time and go from there.

There’s a poll below. Who do you think will win the job? They’re facing the Houston Astros and it’ll presumably be right-hander Zack Greinke on the mound, so we’re sticking with that side of the platoon.

Poll

Who will start at DH on Opening Day for the 2021 A’s?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Jed Lowrie
    (249 votes)
  • 22%
    Mark Canha
    (185 votes)
  • 15%
    Seth Brown
    (130 votes)
  • 4%
    Ka’ai Tom
    (35 votes)
  • 3%
    Austin Allen
    (32 votes)
  • 1%
    Vimael Machin
    (10 votes)
  • 3%
    Someone else already on the A’s
    (25 votes)
  • 18%
    New free agent or trade acquisition
    (149 votes)
815 votes total Vote Now