Oakland Athletics sign Ryan Roberts

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With Ben Zobrist out for the next 4-6 weeks, the Athletics signed utilityman Ryan Roberts to a minor league contract. Roberts, known as “Tatman,” is batting fifth and playing third base today for the Nashville Sounds.

Roberts is 34-years-old now, and looks pretty far removed from his prime year with Arizona in 2011. He mostly second base and third base in 143 games, and slashed .249/.341/.427 at the plate with 19 homers and 18 stolen bases. Since then, he’s hit .234 with 17 home runs 211 games split between Arizona, Tampa Bay and Boston.

Roberts’ biggest asset is his ability to hit left-handed pitching. His career OPS against lefties is .772, while it’s just .671 against righties. Roberts also brings above replacement level defense (2.1 dWAR for his career) at both third base and second base.

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If Roberts gets in a groove quickly in Nashville, he could be in Oakland very soon. The A’s have a huge need for a right-handed hitting infielder with both Zobrist and Tyler Ladendorf on the DL. Max Muncy was called up on Saturday, but he bats left-handed and he can only play first and third. Unless the A’s want to try moving Brett Lawrie to second base (he played 32 games there in Toronto last year), Eric Sogard will have to play second base every day. That’s something nobody should have to see.

So if Roberts makes it back to the big leagues, he won’t need to produce like he did in 2011. All he needs to do is have a better slash line than .194/.280/.236. Those are Sogard’s career numbers against left-handed pitching. Roberts is a definitely not on Sogard’s level defensively, but he’s not Alberto Callaspo-level terrible either. Even if Roberts’ OPS against lefties dropped by 100 points, he’d still be a huge upgrade over Sogard.

But what happens if Roberts can’t figure out his swing in AAA? The A’s could try playing Mark Canha at third base and Brett Lawrie at second, but playing two guys out of position in the same infield seems iffy. Another option is finding another player off the scrap heap. Steve Tolleson was designated for assignment by the Blue Jays on Friday, and his career slash line is .294/.346/.472. Like Roberts, he can play all over the infield, and he was pretty solid defensively last year for the Blue Jays (0.7 dWAR).

I’d like to see the A’s nab Tolleson off waivers and DFA one of their unnecessary players (Chad Smith, Arnold Leon, or maybe Cody Ross). Also, Roberts isn’t on the 40-man roster, so one of those players will probably be DFA’d to make room for him if necessary.

Roberts and Tolleson won’t be superstars, but either one would be solid in a temporary platoon with Sogard. Losing Zobrist hurts, but adding quality depth players to fill in until he gets back will help.

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