Expect the A’s to be more active shopping for outfielders than any other position as Major League Baseball’s free agency period gets underway.
Oakland is without an everyday answer in both center field and right field, with center being a particular area of need following the trades of Billy Burns and Coco Crisp in the second half of 2016.
“There’s no question center field, short and long term, is a concern,” A’s executive VP of baseball operations Billy Beane said at season’s end.
The only returning outfielder who’s guaranteed a starting spot is left fielder Khris Davis, whose 42-homer season was the A’s biggest bright spot in an otherwise very disappointing 2016. And even Davis is likely to see some time at designated hitter.
There are plenty of potential solutions on the open market, but as is the case every winter, the A’s aren’t expected to break the bank going after the top-shelf names.
LF Khris Davis: age 28
2016 stats: .247, 42 HRs, 102 RBI, .831 OPS
CF Jake Smolinski: age 27
Stats: .238, 7 HRs, 27 RBI, 28 R
RF Danny Valencia: age 32
Stats: .287, 17 HRs, 51 RBI, 72 R
Thoughts: Obviously these aren’t the only three returners potentially in the mix. Brett Eibner got a second-half look in both center and the corners, and 22-year-old prospect Matt Olson saw time in right field and first base during a September call-up. But except for Davis in left, nobody on the current roster did enough to suggest they’re an answer at the other two spots. Valencia, who was involved in a highly publicized clubhouse fight with Billy Butler in August, is a non-tender candidate. Should Mark Canha make a healthy return from left hip surgery, he’s a potential solution in right.
BIG TICKET ITEMS:
LF/CF Yoenis Cespedes: age 31
2015 stats: .280, 31 HR, 86 RBI, .884 OPS
CF Ian Desmond : age 31
Stats: .285, 22 HRs, 86 RBI, 107 R
CF Dexter Fowler: age 30
Stats: .276, 13 HR, 48 RBI, .840 OPS
Thoughts: It’s tough to envision the A’s making a run at this cream-of-the-crop trio. Cespedes, who opted out of the final two years of his contract with the Mets, could land a deal north of $100 million. Desmond, who rebuilt his value with the Rangers last season, could garner interest from multiple AL West clubs. At this stage of his career, Jose Bautista’s name recognition probably outweighs his actual production, but he’s another marquee guy available. Mark Trumbo? Enormous power but best suited to DH.
BEST OF THE REST:
RF Josh Reddick: age 29
Stats: .281, 10 HR, 37 RBI, 53 R
A good fit?: Could the A’s MC of walk-off celebrations return after being dealt to the Dodgers at the Aug. 1 trade deadline? It’s possible he has to settle for a three-year deal, and that could put Oakland in play. Reddick continued to trade texts with manager Bob Melvin even after he donned Dodger Blue. He would fit a need, and re-signing the one-time Gold Glover would be a nice reversal of storylines for a fan base accustomed to seeing their favorite players exiting Oakland.
CF Carlos Gomez: age 30
Stats: .231, 13 HR, 53 RBI, 45 R
A good fit?: His production has taken a serious dive over the past couple of seasons. Bad for his asking price; potentially good for the A’s. Some teams may view him as too much of a risk, and that could open the door for the A’s. Rangers GM Jon Daniels hasn’t ruled out trying to re-sign Gomez.
LF/RF Brandon Moss: : age 33
Stats: .225, 28 HR, 67 RBI, 66 R
A good fit?: What, you thought Reddick was the only former Athletic who could merit consideration? The slugger still carries pop in his left-handed bat, though he’d best be used in a platoon. No team likes to platoon more than the A’s do. But there’s more than nostalgia to consider here. Moss is at the age where you have to wonder when his production might truly decline.
CF Rajai Davis: age 36
Stats: .249, 12 HR, 48 RBI, 43 SB
A good fit?: Why stop the “Blast from A’s past” momentum? Surely Davis’ name resonates with A’s fans after his dramatic Game 7 homer in the World Series for Cleveland. He’s not a great on-base guy, but his speed is still a factor even though he’s approaching his late-30’s, as those 43 steals attest. He fits the bill as a center field/leadoff type, which the A’s need, but it’s tough to envision the A’s pulling the trigger here given his age.
Others: Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Jon Jay, Angel Pagan, Colby Rasmus, Michael Saunders
LF/RF Matt Joyce:: age 32
Stats: .242, 13 HR, 42 RBI, .866 OPS
A good fit?: This addition wouldn’t send season-ticket sales through the roof, but the left-handed hitting Joyce posted a .403 on-base percentage in 140 games for the Pirates last season.
LF/RF Eric Thames: age 29
A good fit?: His name might ring a bell. The left-handed hitting Thames hasn’t played in the majors since 2012, but he went to Korea and hit 124 homers for the NC Dinos from 2014-16. Who knows how his offensive revival would translate back to the bigs? It’s a huge jump in competition from the Korean Baseball Organization. But Thames, who turns 30 this week, is young enough to consider taking a flyer on with a one-year deal.