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
It was one of the A’s longest unresolved storylines, and no, we’re not talking about ballparks or lawsuits or the city of San Jose.
The team’s search for an everyday second baseman had been a hot topic going back to last summer’s trade deadline. A solution finally arrived with Saturday’s five-player trade that brought Ben Zobrist from Tampa Bay to Oakland.
The switch hitter has the ability to play any number of positions for the A’s, but his best fit – as the roster stands – clearly is at second base. Combined last season, Oakland received just one home run, a .233 batting average and a .579 on base-plus slugging percentage from its second basemen.
Veteran Nick Punto was released in December and Alberto Callaspo left via free agency. Eric Sogard, an excellent defender who endured a poor year at the plate last season, remains in the mix. Joe Wendle, acquired last month from Cleveland for Brandon Moss, still needs some seasoning. Marcus Semien, another middle infielder acquired via trade this winter, appears ticketed as the everyday shortstop following Wednesday’s trade of Yunel Escobar, who originally came over from the Rays in the same deal that netted Zobrist.
[RELATED: Escobar trade reflects A's faith in Semien]
So barring another addition, Zobrist’s primary home with his new club appears to be second base, ending the A’s long-running search at the position.
STARRING CAST: The 33-year-old Zobrist, who also plays shortstop and all three outfield positions, grades out as a strong defender at second base, but he pokes fun at the style he exhibits there. “It’s not necessarily gonna look pretty, but I get the job done,” he said after his trade from Tampa Bay. Zobrist broke into the majors as a shortstop with the Rays, but soon realized that his best shot at sticking in the bigs was to learn to play as many positions as possible. He believes that keeps him dialed into the game and helps him maintain an edge. He’s also got flexibility in the batting order, making at least 16 career starts in all nine spots. We’ll speculate that he begins the season as either the second or third hitter in the A’s lineup.
CAMP COMPETITION: Sogard has been a contributing member to postseason-qualifying teams each of the past two seasons. But his batting average fell from .266 in 2013 to .223 last season. A fan favorite who provides some flash with the glove, Sogard has the tools to serve as the backup utility infielder should Zobrist and Semien indeed begin the season as the starting double-play combo. There’s also the chance that Zobrist sees time in left or right field, and Sogard can handle second in that scenario.
The A’s obviously are big on Wendle to take him as the lone player in the return for Moss, an All-Star. Wendle will be a non-roster invitee to big league spring camp, though it’s likely club officials want to see him prove himself in the minors a bit more. He’s yet to play above the Double-A level.
PAY ATTENTION TO: how aggressively the A’s pursue Cuban second baseman Hector Olivera, whose potential addition would change the outlook at this position. He’s scheduled to hold an open workout for teams next week in the Dominican Republic. The A’s reportedly have interest, but there will be competition for him. Should Olivera be added to the mix, it points to Zobrist seeing more time in the outfield. Olivera still has to be cleared by the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control and by Major League Baseball, so he’s not eligible to sign yet.