It’s official. Matt Olson is gone, traded to Atlanta. We knew it was coming, and now it’s happened.
There are all kinds of ways to feel about this news. The big-picture is frustrating, with another star shipped away by a team that won’t spend money to keep them. The short-term is a bummer, with another competitive window ending without a championship ring. The individual case is heartbreaking, as Olson was an immense fan favorite here.
But on top of all that, there will also still be an MLB season in 2022, and the A’s are scheduled to participate in it. They might not win a lot of games this year, but they will at least play them. And now they need a new first baseman.
Fortunately, first base is the easiest position on the diamond to fill. You can even teach it to somebody new if needed. Tell ‘im Wash.
With that in mind, who might be the early candidates to take over this summer? Of course, the answer very well might be that we don’t know because he’s not here yet, with a trade acquisition or free agent signing still on the way in the coming days. But there are already a few in-house names worth considering.
Brown performed quite well in his first extended MLB look. He hit homers at a blistering pace, 20 of them in a half-season’s worth of plate appearances, offering an exciting preview of his power. There were enough holes in his swing that he was beatable via the strikeout, and his batting average suffered because of it (and by extension his OBP), but on a rebuilding roster he’s earned everyday at-bats somewhere this summer.
That playing time could come at first base, a position where he has plenty of pro experience. The only problem is, he’s an excellent defensive outfielder, and that was a big part of his value last year. It would be one thing if he was a clunker out there and you wanted to hide him at 1B, but it’s the opposite; he’s fantastic out there and it would be a shame to waste that by sticking him at first.
It’s possible that the outfield could get filled by other means, especially since one of the prospects in the Olson trade (Cristian Pache) looks like an Opening Day center fielder. If the A’s end up with an outfield of Pache, Laureano, and another ace glove, then it’s possible Brown could really be forced elsewhere, and if the choice is between 1B and DH then they may as well keep his glove on the field wherever they can. But my first hope would be to see Brown in an outfield corner next month.
But wait! The A’s prepared for this. They already went out and found a big name on the scrap heap, signing Eric Thames to a minor league contract. He’s a couple years and a major injury removed from being a quality slugger, but at 35 it’s not too late for him to rediscover some of his past MLB success.
If Thames does reprove his bat this spring, then perhaps the better fit for him would be DH. After all, he was never a highly rated defender even in his prime, and coming off a torn Achilles tendon isn’t going to help improve that. But add him to the mix of strong 1B candidates to watch this spring, as an especially exciting lotto ticket.
Allen is a catcher, but his value is almost entirely in his bat. The A’s already have a starting catcher (Murphy) and they just acquired an impact prospect who might arrive in 2022 (Shea Langeliers), so while Allen is currently the second catcher on the 40-man roster that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to stay that way. If nothing else, veteran glove-first backups are available for free anytime, and Oakland already picked one up this winter on a minor league deal just in case (Christian Bethancourt).
There’s not a nice way to say that Allen isn’t a very good defensive catcher. But the 28-year-old still has serious potential as a hitter, and in Triple-A he posts great power with low strikeout rates and high batting averages, everything you could hope for. If he ends up as Oakland’s backup catcher in April then that’s fine, but they’ve repeatedly passed him over for that role in the past and he’s remained stuck in the minors. It might be interesting to see his bat get a larger chance than his glove can afford him, and one way to do that would be to try him out at 1B or DH.
Getting more creative here:
- Chad Pinder: The super-sub fills in everywhere else, why not first base? Like with Brown, this would feel like a waste of Pinder’s outfield ability, and also of his limited middle infield ability, but when the open position happens to be 1B then that’s where your utilityman goes. We’re a long way from this being the best plan, but it’s at least an option, and a rebuilding year could be the time to finally give him everyday at-bats once and for all and see what happens.
- Stephen Piscotty: Got a struggling outfielder stuck on your payroll, and nowhere to play him? If he’s healthy, then why not stick him at first base to get him some at-bats? It’s easy to write him off after a couple of injured seasons, but it’s also easy to imagine him getting healthy and bouncing back at age 31. When he’s on track he’s a quality hitter, and since he’s here anyway it’s worth trying to get him on track again.
- Cody Thomas: He’s an outfielder with a big bat, and he’s on the 40-man roster, but he’s not exactly a front-runner for the Opening Day lineup. If he has a big spring, or a big April in Triple-A, and the outfield gets taken care of by other means, then maybe moving to 1B or DH becomes an option.
- Dalton Kelly: Reaching a bit deeper here, Kelly signed a minor league deal this winter with an invite to spring training. The lefty hasn’t debuted in the majors yet at age 27, but he hit for power and OBP in Triple-A last year for the Rays, so he’ll get his chance this month to show what he can do in the Cactus League.
- Dermis Garcia: Same story as Kelly, a minor league signing with a non-roster invite to spring, except Garcia hasn’t yet played above Double-A, in the Yankees system. He hit 31 homers there last year at age 23, though, so keep him in your longer-term view.
- Platoon or committee: Remember that there doesn’t need to be just one answer. Maybe two of the above names could form a potent platoon, or first base could just become a rotating spot where multiple bodies help out as necessary, or somebody has a hot April but cools off and gets replaced in June. But we’ve gotta start somewhere!
- I Don’t Give A Darn: No, that’s our shortstop.
What do you think, Athletics Nation? Who’s on first in 2022? And is that player already in the organization, or are they still yet to be acquired? Let’s discuss in the comments!