Editor's Note: The above video is from July 22, 2016.
A’s general manager David Forst defended his team’s handling of Coco Crisp on Tuesday after the outfielder accused the team of not playing him to avoid his expensive vesting option kicking in for 2017.
If the 36-year-old Crisp reaches 130 games played this season, he has a $13 million option that gets activated for next season. He enters Tuesday night’s game at Texas having played in 93 of Oakland’s 119 games so far, meaning he’ll need to appear in 37 of the final 43 to reach 130.
Crisp has lost playing time in the second half as the A’s have committed to giving more time to younger outfielders such as Jake Smolinski and the recently acquired Brett Eibner in light of the team falling out of contention.
“Given where we are in the season and the standings, what makes sense is evaluating players whose roles need to be determined beyond 2016,” Forst told CSN California on Tuesday. “When the numbers on paper are even or close (between players), we’ve always given younger players the opportunity to prove themselves, and this instance is no different.”
What doesn’t sit well with Crisp is that lately he’s hardly even been used as a pinch hitter in situations that might suggest he’d be a good option. The switch hitter entered this season with a .387 batting average in the pinch with the A’s, second best in Oakland history among players with at least 30 pinch-hit plate appearances.
“This is shady,” Crisp told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday. “Everyone else is getting used off the bench. BoMel (manager Bob Melvin) can’t even look me in the eye right now.”
His agent, Steve Comte, told CSN California: “I believe in all sincerity that what they’re doing to (Crisp) is an injustice.”
It sets up what is looking to be a sour ending to Crisp’s seven-year run as an Athletic. He is the team’s longest tenured player, he’s a fan favorite and has been at the center of some of the A’s most exciting moments in recent years.
Should his 2017 option not vest, the A’s then hold a club option at $13 million or could cut ties with a $750,000 buyout. They would surely take the buyout.
Crisp is hitting .239 with 10 homers, 46 RBI and seven stolen bases in 93 games, but he leads the entire majors with a .458 average with runners in scoring position.
In comparing numbers, Crisp’s OPS (on base-plus-slugging percentage) of .717 is lower than the 27-year-old Smolinski’s (.750) and slightly higher than that of the 27-year-old Eibner (.703), who the A’s are curious to get a look at after acquiring him from Kansas City on July 30.
The defensive metrics aren’t kind to Crisp in the outfield and his throwing arm always has been below average.
However, in a season where the A’s have used the disabled list at a team record rate, the oft-injured Crisp has avoided the DL and been a durable option that Melvin can count on. He’s dived for balls, gone crashing into the outfield wall despite a chronic neck problem and has consistently hustled out grounders, which can’t be said of every veteran on this team.
The vesting contract “was there for a purpose,” Comte said. “If he was healthy and able to achieve it, he earns the right to vest that contract.”
But the A’s also have the right to go younger and try to plan for the future in a season that is a lost cause as far as the standings, which makes Crisp’s situation a complicated one.
The unknown is what kind of action, if any, the Players’ Association might take if union leaders feel the A’s are not playing Crisp for the sole purpose of avoiding his contract vesting, and whether that argument would hold weight. A message left with a union representative was not returned.
As for the possibility of the A’s now trading Crisp, he holds veto rights on any trade as a 10-year veteran who has spent at least five with the same team. Comte wouldn’t say whether Crisp would entertain the idea of a trade.