Whether the A’s shop for a free agent outfielder depends greatly on how they feel about their left field situation.
That’s where veteran Coco Crisp will patrol in 2016 if he’s healthy enough to play regularly, and it’s a big "if." The 36-year-old switch hitter has logged just 170 games combined in the past two seasons due primarily to a chronic neck injury.
General manager David Forst and manager Bob Melvin have both expressed their hope that an offseason of rest will benefit Crisp and have him ready to be the everyday left fielder. He’s due $11 million in 2016, and the A’s need him on the field and producing.
But it’s obvious that there has to be a fallback plan of some kind.
Oakland could use Mark Canha in left field, but he’s also their potential starting first baseman. Sam Fuld had a poor offensive season and Craig Gentry spent most of the season at Triple-A. Jake Smolinski and recently acquired Andrew Lambo could form a platoon, but neither has a proven track record in the majors.
[REWIND: A's claim OF Lambo off waivers]
So the potential is there to add an outfielder, and this year’s free agent crop has some good ones to choose from:
CF Billy Burns: age 26
2015 stats: .294, 5 HRs, 42 RBI, 70 R, 26 SB
LF Coco Crisp: age 36
Stats: .175, 0 HRs, 6 RBI, 11 R, 2 SB
RF Josh Reddick: age 28
Stats: .272, 20 HRs, 77 RBI, 67 R
Thoughts: Burns blossomed in his rookie season to claim the center field job, and Reddick stayed healthy and enjoyed an offensive revival. A’s officials still believe Crisp can be a spark plug if healthy. Chances are he’ll hit second behind Burns when he’s in there.
Yoenis Cespedes: age 30
Stats: .291, 35 HRs, 105 RBI, 101 R
Alex Gordon: age 31
Stats: .271, 13 HRs, 48 RBI, 40 R
Jason Heyward: age 26
Stats: .293, 13 HRs, 60 RBI, 79 R
Justin Upton: age 28
Stats: .251, 26 HRs, 81 RBI, 85 R
Thoughts: Heyward and Upton are especially attractive because of their youth, and all four of these guys will be among the most sought after position players in this class. Cespedes’ torrid streak after being acquired by the Mets drove up his price and surely dashed any chance of a reunion with the A’s.
BEST OF THE REST
Dexter Fowler: age 29
Stats: .250, 17 HRs, 46 RBI, 102 R
A good fit?: He does a little bit of everything offensively and can play all three outfield positions. It may take four years and in the neighborhood of $50 million (or more) to land Fowler. He seems more of a fit for a contender looking to acquire a final piece or two to put itself over the top. The Cubs may try to bring him back.
Gerardo Parra: age 28
Stats: .291, 14 HRs, 51 RBI, 83 R
A good fit?: The defensive metrics say this two-time Gold Glove winner has slipped a bit, but one scout quizzed about Parra still gave him a thumbs-up defensively, and he can handle center in a pinch. The left-handed hitter is better against righties, but the A’s like their platoons anyway. His offense dipped in the second half after a trade to Baltimore, and if that knocks his price down, perhaps he falls into Oakland’s range.
Denard Span: age 31
Stats: .301, 5 HRs, 22 RBI, 38 R
A good fit?: If Crisp can’t be a lineup mainstay, how about another top-of-the-order type known for creating some havoc on the bases? Span had hip surgery in September, so his health is a question mark. But that could be the A’s opportunity to swoop in and get a player that other teams might be wary of.
Others: Austin Jackson, Colby Rasmus
David Murphy: age 34
Stats: .283, 10 HRs, 50 RBI, 38 R
A good fit?: The longtime Ranger has provided steady left-handed production over his career. He’ll cost much less than Parra, another outfielder best suited for a platoon situation.
Alex Rios: age 34
Stats: .255, 4 HRs, 32 RBI, 40 R
A good fit?: He posted an 18-homer, 81-RBI season as recently as 2013 and should be available on a one-year deal.
Others: Nori Aoki, Alejandro De Aza
The A’s won’t be in on the high-priced stars in this group, and some of the more affordable options have their flaws. Given that the A’s are holding out hope that Crisp will be healthy, it’s most likely they would add a role-type player for depth.