The Oakland Athletics have a tricky dilemma regarding how to fit five outfielders into the everyday lineup. Luckily, the most obvious way to do it isn't half bad of an idea, and a few other alternatives could work equally as well, too.
Let's recap: The A's entered the offseason already with Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp and Josh Reddick aligning the outfield (not to mention Seth Smith, an outfielder turned DH). On Oct. 20, Oakland acquired Chris Young. Further complicating things, GM Billy Beane has stated his desire to keep the lineup intact as is.
Five outfielders. Four spots in the lineup. What's a coach to do?
Here are the most logical solutions, and one is straight from Bob Melvin's mouth.
According to Jane Lee of MLB.com, Melvin intends to give the fab five an equal share of at-bats in the 400 to 500 range. Here's Melvin's plan:
It's just a matter of finding the right time, the right spot, and potentially allowing for injury, too. We do have the DH spot that we can rotate these guys through. It gives us the option to rest some guys a little bit more, whether it's Yoenis, who was a little bit run down at the end, and we can rest Coco a little bit.
Five guys for four spots isn't all that bad, really. Especially with 162 games in a season, not counting playoffs.
Crisp played 120 games in 2012, Cespedes just 129, Smith 125 and Young 101 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Though Reddick played in 156 games, he showed clear signs of fatigue (or flat-out struggle) down the stretch, hitting .259 in August, then .164 in September and October.
It goes without saying that fresh legs are better than an exhausted set.
The other benefit of having a plethora of positional players is that when one begins to struggle (i.e. Reddick in September), another can hopefully pick up the slack. Across the bay (and the sports realm), coach Jim Harbaugh approached the idea of "playing the hot hand" successfully. Even Melvin proceeded with a version of this, platooning the DH and first base positions in the 2012 lineup.
Whoever is hot, plays. Whoever is not, sits.
Let's not just pick on Reddick. Crisp took awhile to finally come around, batting .206 in the first month of baseball and .132 in May. Smith's splits show his batting average dropped from .249 in the first half to .228 in the second half.
Additionally, the amount of plate appearances in 2012 is worth noting. Here is the breakdown: Reddick (673), Cespedes (540), Crisp (508), Smith (441), Young (363) and Jonny Gomes (333).
So, 2013 will be more of the same. Said another way, it won't be anything we haven't already seen.
Reddick may get less, but he should still lead the team in at-bats along with Cespedes. Crisp and Smith will likely see fewer at-bats, with Young receiving more than last year. And of course, Gomes is a non-factor for the A's next season. It'll be a whole lot of platooning, but clearly the concept can work (See: Oakland, 2012, first base).
Indubitably, this regimen comes with drawbacks.
When a player is in a slump, there aren't many better ways to help him out of it than by showing trust and faith in him, keeping him in the lineup and providing the consistency to break out of stagnation. Removing him (be it a young player like Yoenis or Reddick) from everyday action could ultimately be more damaging to their psyche.
Unfortunately, there's not much else that can be done, outside of maybe these suggestions.
Beane Reneges, Trades an Outfielder
But it's not who you think.
Cespedes and Reddick dazzled. Crisp provided immeasurable experience, leadership and mentoring to the young squad. Gomes played the hometown hero often.
Seth Smith, however, well, he was just kind of there for the ride.
Though his .333 on-base percentage is on par with the rest of the crew, his .240 batting average is the lowest of the bunch. His 14 home runs were also the second-lowest, just above Crisp's 11.
Beane says he isn't moving anyone, and he shouldn't. But if he changes his mind, there's one more option in addition to Crisp.
Chris Young Is the New Jonny Gomes
Let's be honest about Chris Young's "talents." He is a career .239 hitter with streaky power who strikes out often.
Perhaps A's fans should stop looking at this guy as an everyday starter, one who arrived in Oakland already bound to "steal" someone's spot.
Maybe, just maybe, he's no more than a solid, fourth outfielder.
Before the 2012 season, Gomes was brought in as a platoon DH and last-resort outfielder. The move worked fantastically, as he surprised many with 18 home runs and 47 RBI in a limited role.
But it's certainly possible that Young doesn't produce in Gomes-like fashion. The lack of impact would reduce him to a lesser role, and that's just fine. Most solidly built teams have equally solid backups in place.
The World Series-winning San Francisco Giants lost everyday outfielder Melky Cabrera to suspension. Inserting Gregor Blanco served as an effective solution. All over the MLB, there's more-than-serviceable backups waiting in the wings—Blanco, Roger Bernadina of Washington, Chris Heisey of Cincinnati, Raul Ibanez of New York and so on.
Fourth outfielders. They aren't everyday guys, but they're equally important.
Conclusion—The Perfect Lineup
Position-wise, Crisp should be kept in the field more often than not. As a DH, he has hit .218 over his entire career compared to a .267 average in games as a center fielder and .305 average as a left fielder. Smith struggles with left-handed pitching (.191 average), whereas Young suffers against right-handed pitching (.228 average).
Here's a proposed lineup: Cespedes (LF), Crisp (CF), Reddick (RF) and Smith (DH against righties) or Young (DH against lefties), dependent on opposing pitching.
This looks all too familiar—as if it were nearly identical to the winning formula of 2012.