Any Oakland Athletics fan can tell you how important Coco Crisp is to the A’s offense. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, wrote, or tweeted something along the lines of, “Coco is the engine. The A’s go as he goes,” I’d have, like, $5 in nickels. While he has always been important, Coco will be more vital to the Athletics’ success this season than ever before.
Let’s flash back and take a look at the past two seasons to get a baseline understanding of how important Crisp has been. In 2013, he had the best season of his career since 2005. He swatted a career high 22 homers and drove in 66 — the third highest single-season mark of his career. He accomplished all this despite missing 31 games.
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In August and September of that season, Crisp hit .287/.345/.557 with a staggering 12 homers and 28 RBI in just 45 games. To put that in perspective, that is a 43 HR, 100 RBI pace over 162 games. During those two months, the A’s went 33-21. From late August onward, they gained 8.5 games in the division on their way to winning the AL West for the second straight year.
In 2013 we saw the effect a productive, healthy Coco had on the A’s fortunes. In 2014 we saw the opposite.
Oakland’s epic collapse in 2014 began roughly at the outset of the second half of the season. Due to various injuries, Crisp missed at least five straight games twice in August and September. Appearing in only 53 of the team’s 67 second half games, Crisp batted .191/.272/.258 with a mere eight extra base hits and 16 RBI. The team finished 29-38, falling from the best record in baseball and barely hanging onto the second Wild Card spot. A lot contributed to the collapse, but Coco’s lack of production cannot be ignored.
Now that we know how important Crisp has been, how could he be more important this season? Two reasons: leadership and his salary.
Oakland General Manger Billy Beane has executed a methodical retooling of the Athletics’ roster this offseason. To date, he has consummated nine trades involving 27 players. With the acquisitions of Brett Lawrie, Marcus Semien, Ben Zobrist, Ike Davis, Billy Butler, and Josh Phegley, Beane turned over the entire starting infield.
“First we have to figure our starting point, buying into ourselves as a team,” Crisp said. “We have to feel out our chemistry.”
With so many new faces, Coco’s role as a clubhouse leader will be more important than ever before. As the oldest player on a roster full of young bucks, he needs to step up and bring his teammates together. He needs to get them to trust each other. Sean Doolittle, #FaceofMLB, said it best when talking about the lack of chemistry the A’s have right now, even if he was joking.
When a roster undergoes significant turnover like this, a veteran leader needs to take action and get the rest of the team to buy in. Crisp needs to be that leader in 2015.
The other reason Crisp is more important than ever is his salary. Coco will make $11 million this season — a salary that Lew Wolff doesn’t pay to just anyone. Many of this offseason’s trades were made in large part due to skills that were declining and compensation that was rising, namely Brandon Moss and Derek Norris.
With Wolff being as stingy with money as he is, players with salaries as high as Crisp’s need to produce. Even though the A’s raced out to the best record in the American League last season, the biggest story for awhile was how poorly Jim Johnson, on a $10 million salary, was pitching.
There is no GM in baseball better than Beane at getting maximum value out of players for the money Wolff spends. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports wrote after the Josh Donaldson trade that the A’s saved about $40 million over the next four seasons. He said the A’s could eventually turn one player, Donaldson, into seven or more depending on how Beane reallocates that money. We’ve already seen that happening with the additions of Zobrist and Tyler Clippard.
How does this relate to Coco? If he has an unproductive 2015, Beane probably could have worked his magic and found a couple players to spend that $11 million on who would have produced. Coco’s salary is a big investment that hinges on his ability to stay healthy and perform more like he did in 2013 than in 2014.
If Crisp can stay healthy, live up to his salary, and get his teammates to buy in, 2015 can be special for the Athletics. With his age, influence, and salary, A’s players old and new will look to him to lead them back to the postseason. Your move, Coco.