Don’t Kill The Messenger: Have Oakland Athletics Fans Seen the Last of Coco Crisp?
Practical-thinking Oakland Athletics fans will realize the days of seeing a jubilant Coco Crisp doing the Bernie Lean or participating in a victory pie after a walk-off win ended with the 2015 season as a packed A’s spring roster – rich in YOUNG outfield talent – has to be trimmed down to 25 by 2016 Opening Day. Also, don’t be surprised if you have to say goodbye to the Nerd Power and Super Sam banners in the outfield stands of the O.Co, as Eric Sogard and possibly Sam Fuld are likely to get beat out for spots.
In Arizona this year, Crisp is competing against the future of the organization, against his age, against time, and against ending a 14-year career – the last six with the A’s. Because of a multitude of ailments, with his chronic neck injury being the primary cause, he only played in 44 games last year (14 of his last 15 appearances were as a pinch-hitter coming off the bench) and hit a miserable .175 BA. His defensive abilities are weak when compared to the young corps of new faces in Mesa, especially with his known weak arm that opponents took advantage of on a regular basis over the last few years.
It’s obvious his 36-year-old body is on the decline and, with this spring’s 4-for-27 (.148) performance (heading into Sunday’s game), the Athletics would be best served to say “Sayonara” despite a guaranteed $11 million contract for 2016. Crisp will probably be one of the last released, giving him a chance to make one last sprint during the Bay Bridge Series, into the Coliseum grass to reminisce about the happier times from 2010 to 2015, and to give fans one more day of #4 leaning his head back and wobbling his arms.
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Manager Bob Melvin is likely to go with at least 12 pitchers when the A’s break camp – five starters, closer Sean Doolittle, and a minimum of six relievers. That leaves 13 position players on the roster: Danny Valencia, Marcus Semien, Jed Lowrie and Yonder Alonso around the horn, Stephen Vogt catching, and an outfield of Khris Davis, Billy Burns and Josh Reddick, with Billy ‘The $11 Million Groundout’ Butler at DH. That leaves only four open slots. Obviously Josh Phegley is needed as the back-up catcher, which leaves three open positions that Crisp et. al. have available to them.
Nods at this point have to be given to both Chris Coghlan and Mark Canha over others. Coghlan, 30, can play both infield and outfield and was acquired from the Cubs for the pop in his bat that produced 16 home runs last season. This spring, he’s made some nice plays both in the outfield and at second base, showing he’s clinched the back-up infield role (since Lowrie can also play third and shortstop) to give the regulars a day off. Canha, 27, established last year that he deserves to be in the majors. If he’s not the starting left fielder, he’s a worthy choice for backup in the outfield and at first base. As a rookie last season, the right-handed hitting Canha amassed 16 home runs and 70 RBIs in 124 games. In August last season, after he acquired a regular role in the line-up, he hit over .300 and continued the pace to the end of the season. I don’t care if Canha has options, he’s earned a spot on the team.
That leaves one position available (and maybe not, if Melvin chooses to have a 13-man pitching staff). Fuld* (10-for-24) and newcomer Andrew Lambo (12-for-31) are tearing up spring opponents at the plate vying for the last most-likely-at-this-juncture outfield spot. Lambo, who has options left, may benefit from regular playing time and be sent to Triple-A Nashville to spare Fuld, who is out of options. Jake Smolinski and Tyler Ladendorf are in parallel situations to Lambo – they’re having hot springs, but having options remaining and would benefit from Triple-A starting roles.
Either way, the choices do not benefit the sentimental favorites from years past: Crisp or Sogard, who’s batting a pitiful .200 (4-for-20) this spring.
Winning teams can’t afford to be “sentimental,” and if the A’s want to win against the rest of the AL this season, they can’t decide their roster based on remaining options, guaranteed money, or favorites from the past. They have to go with the best players, and certainly Coco isn’t one of those.
*Editor’s Note: After this article’s deadline, the Athletics announced Fuld is expected to miss at least three weeks after suffering a left shoulder sprain during Saturday’s game against the Reds. This will give the A’s some extra time to determine whether they’d prefer to keep him and send one of their younger outfielders to Triple-A, instead of being forced to release him at the end of camp.