Programming note: This article is part of an ongoing feature series, as Insider Joe Stiglich breaks down each A's position group over the offseason
Time to get acquainted with a new cast of characters handling first base for the A’s.
Out is All-Star slugger Brandon Moss, traded to the Cleveland Indians in December. In are three new faces -- Ike Davis, a veteran of the National League; Billy Butler, a free agent signed from the American League champion Kansas City Royals; and Mark Canha, a Rule 5 draft pick that Oakland obtained from Colorado during the winter meetings.
It’s unlikely that anyone from that group will command the position full time. Rather, the innings figure to be divided somehow between that trio, with catcher John Jaso also an option if he’s still on the roster by the time Opening Night rolls around.
Last season, A’s first basemen combined for a .684 on base-plus-slugging percentage, which ranked 12th in the AL for that position (a significant chunk of Moss’ production came while he was playing the outfield). With Moss, Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris and Jed Lowrie among those gone from the 2014 squad, getting some pop from the first base position will be critical for Oakland.
STARRING CAST: Davis was acquired in November from the Pittsburgh Pirates for international bonus slot money, a low-cost pickup who A’s officials feel could thrive against right-handed pitching. The left-handed-hitting Davis, who turns 28 in March, holds a career .813 OPS against right-handers (compared to .577 vs. lefties). He totaled 11 homers and 51 RBI last season, all against right-handers, in 360 at-bats. A first-round pick of the Mets in 2008, Davis is just a .240 career hitter over five major league seasons. But he turned in a 32-homer, 90-RBI season as recently as 2012 with New York.
The A’s gave Butler, 28, a three-year $30 million contract with the idea of him being their primary designated hitter. But the longtime Royal is also expected to see time at first base. Butler’s numbers have slid since his All-Star campaign of 2012, but it’s noteworthy that his best offensive month last season (in terms of HR and RBI) came in August, when he was playing first base in place of the injured Eric Hosmer. He said upon signing with Oakland that he looks forward to seeing more time at first in 2015.
Canha, a right-handed hitter like Butler, is the wild card. As a Rule 5 pick, he must stick on the A’s 25-man roster all season or be offered back to Miami (his original club that Colorado drafted him from) for $25,000. Canha, who turns 26 in February, batted .303 with 20 homers at Triple-A last season and A’s officials also consider him a candidate to play left field.
CAMP COMPETITION: There’s room for Davis, Butler and Canha to all make the 25-man roster. Davis figures to form the left-handed portion of a platoon, but it remains to be seen just how much time Butler and/or Canha get at first. It’s possible Butler will play first and Canha serves as DH against left-handers, or vice versa. But all factors certainly point toward first base being a shared position.
Stephen Vogt saw substantial time at first last year, but the current roster makeup suggests he’s needed at catcher first and foremost.
PAY ATTENTION TO: How Canha looks in left field during spring training games, and whether he becomes a realistic option at that position. The A’s have Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry available to platoon in left. Both are speedy players and good defenders. But if the A’s opt for more power in left field, and Canha can hold his own defensively, perhaps he emerges as the primary man there. In that case, expect Butler to see more time at first base.