When I saw that the A's had signed Nick Punto to a one-year, $2.75 million deal, with a vesting option for 2015 at the same amount, it caught me off guard. I didn't even consider Oakland as a possibility for Punto. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.
In 335 plate appearances with the Dodgers last year, Punto hit .255/.328/.327 – nothing to write home about. He got playing time at second, short, and third, and was a good defender at two of the three (with second base coming in at just average). Oakland doesn't really need anyone at those positions, with Alberto Callaspo, Jed Lowrie, and Josh Donaldson all entrenched. But Punto won't be a starter for the A's – he'll be a super utility guy, and that's what they really needed last year.
Oakland used eight players at second base in 2013, and the only above average defender of the bunch was Eric Sogard. Ignoring one inning at short for Donaldson, they used three shortstops, and all were below average defenders. Donaldson got all of the playing time at third, and was fantastic defensively. Late in games, if the A's needed to slide in a defensive replacement at second or short, the left-handed hitting Sogard was really their only option. With the switch-hitting Punto in the fold, Oakland wouldn't be sacrificing matchups for defense. He also allows the team some versatility in case Donaldson needs to rest, letting Callaspo shift to his more familiar third base.
Health is another reason this signing makes sense for the A's. Lowrie was awesome in 2013 for the club, but it was the only fully healthy season he's ever put together in the majors. If Lowrie ends up getting hurt in 2014, Punto's presence on the club could help them resist the urge to call up top prospect Addison Russell, who destroyed the high-A California League this year at age 19.
While $2.75 million might seem like a decent chunk of change for a club like Oakland, remember that the cost of a win is roughly twice that. You should also consider that in 2013, MLB second basemen hit .263/.322/.386 and shortstops hit .254/.308/.372. Punto doesn't have the power numbers, but his defense and on-base skills more than make up for his shortcomings there. He should be a solid asset on Oakland's bench.