The Oakland Athletics are currently in talks with free agent outfielder Jonny Gomes. If they sign Gomes, I think will have officially hopped off the Billy Beane bandwagon, because the team’s offense right now is an absolute horror show.
Assuming Gomes is in the fold, Beane has four outfielders to play the corners alongside Coco Crisp: Gomes, Collin Cowgill, Josh Reddick, and Seth Smith. For their careers, Gomes and Reddick are good against lefties, with a .877 OPS for Gomes, and a .785 OPS for Reddick. Cowgill (in his brief career) and Smith cannot hit lefties very well. Against righties, Smith is excellent (.882 OPS career), while the other three aren’t great. Looking at Cowgill’s AA numbers from 2010 (since the 2011 splits aren’t available due to a variety of issues), he had a .888 OPS against lefties, and a .783 OPS against righties, another definitive split.
So by that logic, Oakland has three outfielders that can hit lefties, and just one that can hit righties. That would be fine against lefties, when you can start say, Gomes and Reddick every day, aand I guess against righties, you can start Smith and Gomes every day, while turning Cowgill into a bench player supersub kind of guy. I guess that would make sense, but when you run into a situation where Jonny Gomes, who has gotten one full season of plate appearances during his career, is playing every day, then you have a problem. Then, you look at the defense and realize that Gomes is awful in both corners, Smith is awful in right (but good in left), and Reddick is passable in both corners and you really see the problem with starting Gomes every day. It’s a difficult situation for Oakland. The easy situation would just to be to promote prospect Michael Taylor, but guess what? He can’t hit lefties either! In AAA last season, he had a .699 OPS against southpaws, and an .859 OPS against righties. So Oakland would have a nice little double platoon going, and would waste a pair of bench spots in the process.
But I’m not done yet. Let’s look at Oakland’s first base predicament. Oakland has no less than FOUR first basemen on their 40-man roster: Brandon Allen, Chris Carter, and Daric Barton, Kila Ka’aihue. Barton is the only one with significant major league experience, but he can’t hit at all; his career MLB OPS is just .740. But the others haven’t fared much better. Ka’aihue is at .684, Allen is .680 (with a sub-.300 OBP), and Carter is at just .470. But unlike Barton, the other three have hit at AAA. In limited time in the minors this season, Barton had just a .576 OPS while dealing with injuries. He was at .592 in the majors, and couldn’t break .800 in 2008, 2009, or 2010 in Oakland, but had an .841 OPS in 77 games in AAA Sacramento in 2009. Back to the other three. Allen had a .991 OPS in AAA for Reno and Sacramento last year, and was at .933 in 2010. Carter had a .915 OPS in AA and AAA last year, and an .894 OPS in Sacramento in 2010. Ka’aihue had an .812 OPS in AAA in 2011, but was at 1.060 in AAA Omaha in 2010, .825 at Omaha in 2009, and 1.085 in 2008, split between Northwest Arkansas and Omaha.
The major problem with Oakland’s glut of first basemen is that none of them are young. Carter and Allen are both 25, Barton is 26, and Ka’aihue is 27. None of these guys is a potential franchise cornerstone and yet, Oakland has all of them lined up in a little row to play first base for them this season. The good news for the A’s is that DH Hideki Matsui is a free agent and probably won’t return. So that leaves two spots for four guys. But how do you differentiate between them? Barton has the worst bat, but the most experience and the best defense, and is the most expensive. The team is apparently shopping Allen, who has the best minor league credentials in recent years. Ka’aihue absolutely stunk out the joint in a brief tenure with the Royals in 2010 and 2011, and Carter was pitiful during a brief stop with the A’s this season.
No matter what Oakland’s decision is, it’s not en enviable one for Billy Beane. They have an absolute stockpile of mediocre talent to fill the most important positions on the field. Maybe in all of his dealings this offseason, he should have targeted at least one impact bat. Instead, Oakland has guys like Smith and Reddick for the outfield corners, and still doesn’t have a capable first baseman or DH. In the 2012 market, are “platoon outfielders” and “AAA smashers” the new market inefficiency? Doesn’t seem like a great way to build a team to me.
Photos courtesy of Daylife.com