Last week, the Oakland Athletics signed former Chicago White Sox outfielder Dayan Viciedo to a minor league contract, and San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser reported via Twitter that he would report to Nashville within the week. In an outfield where the only every-day player is right fielder Josh Reddick, this move leaves A’s fans to speculate on how Billy Beane intends to use his new acquisition.
Billy Burns has been an unexpectedly productive member of the A’s offense this season. His aggressiveness at the plate and speed on the bases have made him an effective lead-off hitter. Since June 10th, he is batting .358, scoring eight times, and hitting in five other runs. A’s fans have also enjoyed watching him make electrifying plays in center field. Check Burns off the list of movable pieces.
Mark Canha is a statistically below average left fielder defensively, but Bob Melvin clearly thinks that his powerful bat is worth putting him in the lineup more often than not. More importantly, he is a Rule 5 acquisition. If he is given time to develop, he could certainly transform into a dominant power hitter that would certainly be welcome in the A’s lineup. There is no way that the A’s take Canha off the 25-man roster and risk sending him back to Colorado.
Sam Fuld has had a forgettable year at the plate, but his defense may be enough to keep him on the active roster. He has also been showing signs of turning his offense around, batting .429 and walking three times in the last eight games. At $1.7 million, the Athletics are getting about what they expected from Fuld. Do not be surprised if the A’s hang on to him through arbitration.
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That leaves Coco Crisp. For $11 million this season, the A’s have gotten 11 games out of him. In those 11 games, he batted .044 in 52 plate appearances. This was likely the result of his hasty rehab assignment before coming off of the disabled list, but the two games he played in Stockton earlier this year suggest that he would be reluctant to accept a longer assignment. Defensively, he has always had the weakest arm of all of the Athletics’ outfielders since he arrived in 2010, but 2014 is when baserunners truly started exploiting that. His Defensive Runs Saved was an abysmal -17 last season, and his defensive WAR was a career low -1.5, despite his ability to speedily catch up to fly balls. That means that an average Major League outfielder would have likely held 17 more people on base, and netted the team 1-2 more wins (which would have moved the 2014 wildcard game to Oakland).
Crisp and Viciedo had stunningly similar range factors in 2014, which indicates that the A’s would get similar defensive ability if they were to replace Crisp with Viciedo. Range factor is a measure of a fielder’s ability to get putouts and assists, which means it accounts for an outfielder’s ability to both get to the ball, as well as throw runners out. In 2014, Crisp had a range factor of 1.94 putouts and assists per 9 innings played versus Viciedo’s 1.92. So while Crisp’s speed makes him better at getting to and catching fly balls, Viciedo’s superior arm keeps more runners from advancing for extra bases. In the end, these seem to neutralize each other and make the two outfielders equally impactful defensive players.
So why would the A’s replace their second biggest investment with somebody that was released by two different teams before the regular season started? Simply put, Viciedo is younger, stronger and cheaper. Over the last three seasons, the 26 year old Viciedo has out-paced Crisp in home runs and RBIs, and has maintained a batting average and OPS roughly even to Crisp’s.
Viciedo is exactly the kind of player the A’s organization looks for. He is in his mid-20’s, is coming off of an uncharacteristically unproductive year, and can be brought into the system for a reasonable cost. For the A’s, it is a choice between an $11 million outfielder, or a more reliable, stronger outfielder of similar defensive ability that costs a fraction of that price.