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Marginal Improvements for the 2012 A’s: What’s the Point?

January 2, 2012

Yesterday I posted about a rumor from Jeff Fletcher of Bay Bridge Baseball that said that the A’s were in preliminary talks with outfielder Cody Ross about a one-year deal that’d bring him across the Bay. I summarily poo-pooed the deal saying quite simply,

“What a terrible idea.”

Today over Twitter, I talked with Jeff a little about the deal, and my post along with our Twitter conversation and other online complaints about this potential move prompted him to write why he’d support such a move. He first wrote,

“Whatever the A’s end up giving Ross (or whoever they sign in his place), I’m sure it won’t be enough to fundamentally change their financial outlook in the long-term.”

This isn’t a concern of mine. It appears that the A’s payroll ought to be well below $40M and that is fine by me, it makes no difference what it is frankly. My concern with Ross, is that we would be paying him around $3M to do what for us? Well presumably to play left or center field but really what would be getting him for? As a 0.9 WAR player we could expect an additional win. Let’s give him his last five year average WAR of 2.2 wins and ignore any potential decline though he is now on the wrong side of 30 at 31 – he has now bought the A’s two additional wins. What is that though? Perhaps it elevates us just past Seattle into third place? Is that a good thing? Is there really a harm in finishing last? Is there a difference for fans between a team that is 68-94 as opposed to a club that is 66-96? We aren’t talking about two wins to a team like the Boston Red Sox that would have had them in the playoffs this year instead of on the outside looking in. While the $3M would be very cheap for acquiring two extra wins on the open market, two wins really doesn’t get us anything. It perhaps even hurts us by allowing us to sneak by a team like Seattle or maybe a Baltimore and lose a better draft pick.

Fletcher acknowledges that Billy Beane isn’t interested in building a winner in 2012. Now while I find getting a $3M player who improves you not necessarily a move that makes you a winner, it is a move that makes you more of a winner which to me is contrary to the point. His next argument is sort of two-pronged, one that you need to develop players and treat them with some kid gloves and second you need an environment of winning. He writes,

“What he [- Beane] is concerned with is developing, and there are more elements to development than simply throwing every unproven player you can find on the field and letting them play.

For one, sometimes guys go in slumps and shouldn’t play anymore. Sometimes they need to sit down for the sake of their own confidence. Sometimes they need to sit down as a wake-up call, so they realize that nothing is being handed to them.

Also, it’s not a great environment for development if you are sending a message to the players that you don’t care about winning.”

We aren’t talking about throwing every unproven player out there to play. The A’s have two players, who have proven they are AAAA players in Jason Pridie and Brandon Moss, signed as Sacramento roster filler but who could conceivably now be called upon to be fourth or fifth outfielders for the big league club (or starters in the case of injuries). I agree with the fact that these guys may slump – they certainly will – as do all MLB players, but we still can sit them without Ross on the team. We can sit them with Pridie or Moss, or we can sit them with Adam Rosales, Adrian Cardenas, Jermaine Mitchell, Jeff Fiorentino or Cedric Hunter. These aren’t great options but they are options, and they are cheap options that allow us to save someone’s brittle confidence or insert someone in case of injury. The point is you don’t have to hand someone a starting job, they can fight for it, but this is the pool they should be fighting with. They wouldn’t fight with Cody Ross, the A’s wouldn’t sign him and then relegate him to backup Collin Cowgill. That simply wouldn’t happen. As to the not caring about winning being the attitude it isn’t. Baseball is a marathon not a sprint and for the A’s it just happens to be an Ironman long Tour de France style marathon. Players aren’t stupid, they aren’t saying hey let’s go out and win the 2012 AL West crown. They will compete do their best, they collectively are working towards a goal of being a better player and becoming a better team so that they can achieve their goal of contending for a championship in 2014 or 2015. The goal is still on winning, just the goal is working to win in 2015.

Fletcher makes one point that I can agree with from a psychological point of view (now his other points I disagree with but they do have merit, he isn’t coming out of left field here, it is just a different perspective from where I think this team needs to be) when he says,

“Another part of development is being around other players who have developed already. They’ve made the mistakes that you are making, and they can help.”

The A’s do lack this. Ross can also speak to pennant races and World Series championships from his time with the 2010 Giants. But how valuable is this really? We can’t quantify it. Going back to that same 2010 Giants club that was light on previous champions, Aaron Rowand certainly didn’t lead that team anywhere, he being in possession of a ring from the 2005 White Sox, but did Juan Uribe? Did Uribe provide some sort of presence? Or did that come from Pat Burrell who went 1-for-19 for the 2008 champion Phillies? It’s hard to say. Now you don’t necessarily need a champion, surely Barry Zito could’ve taught Madison Bumgarner a whole lot despite being ring-free and certainly Buster Posey could have learned from Eli Whiteside who was seven years his senior, but we can’t measure that. And isn’t this the sort of thing we have a coaching staff for to a degree as well? While I do believe veteran presence does have some sort of value, is it worth spending $3M on and losing the opportunity to get at bats over?

Finally Fletcher writes that,

“no one is going to get short-changed by the presence of Cody Ross or another veteran outfielder like him. There are 2,000-plate appearances to go around for A’s outfielders this year, so that’s plenty for the young guys to get all they can handle, and still have Ross soak up the excess for whatever they can’t.”

That’s true that there are a lot of plate appearances to go around. Last year, the A’s outfield shared 2,082 plate appearances. Of them the three starters (Josh Willingham in left, Coco Crisp in center and David DeJesus in right) took up 1,474 of them or 70.8%. If you add Hideki Matsui into the mix as he was a starter who basically swapped off with Josh Willingham that number jumps to 1,592 or 76.5% of the total. I assume Ross by signing a one-year deal as a 31 year old would want to play as much as possible and not be relegated to riding the pine as he watches Collin Cowgill out there, so let’s say he gets about 535 plate appearances (which his average over the past four seasons). That’s over a quarter of all outfield plate appearances, so yes in theory plenty to go around, but Josh Reddick takes up another quarter, and then who gets another quarter? Conceivably it could be a Brandon Allen pushed out of first by a Daric Barton or out of the designated hitter spot by a Chris Carter? Less playing time to see what we can expect out of Mitchell or Michael Taylor now isn’t it?

We can see a lot of these guys while taking care to cycle them out for injuries or loss of confidence, etc. But frankly with guys like Allen, Carter and Taylor in particular there is nothing left to prove in Sacramento. It is sink or swim time. To use another metaphor it is time to push those three out of the nest and see if they can fly. Cody Ross‘ acquisition would act as an impediment to that.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2012 3:23 am

    First of all, whoever the A’s sign, I’m sure they’ll do so with that guy understanding that the kids are going to play a lot. The reason Ross is a better alternative than Ludwick or Jackson is because he can play all 3 positions. He could conceivably get 450 PAs without taking too many from one specific guy. In a week with 6 games, there are 18 OF spots to start. That’s 4 or 5 a week for four guys. (and someone is always going to be hurt. These are the A’s.)

    Also, I don’t know why you want to see all of those 4A filler guys at all. They are not good now. They are not part of the future. And they have no experience to help the guys who are part of the future. There is no point at all unless you are really worried about that extra $3M of John Fisher’s money. Don’t be. With revenue sharing, the A’s can easily support a $50M payroll.

    Also, I don’t really think you need as many PAs from the young guys as you think to know what they are. Reddick and Allen already have a few hundred (unimpressive) PAs. I don’t think there’s a single guy who wouldn’t show his true ability (good or bad) in 300 PAs.

    And worrying about draft position ( as you did in some tweets but not here) is really silly. It’s as if you know there’s some fundamental difference between the No 7 and the No. 9 pick. There is over 100 drafts, but for one? Zip.

    • January 3, 2012 1:06 pm

      I don’t agree with the majority of this, and I think David’s post is pretty much spot on.

      Josh Reddick is in one outfield spot–we know that. If they sign Ross, he’s probably in another, the same way Emil Brown got far too many at-bats a few years ago. That leaves one starting spot (probably CF) plus some backup/DH time for all of the following players: Mitchell, Cowgill, Cardenas, Allen, Taylor. Allen might see some 1B time, but it’s going to be hard to find enough ABs to evaluate all of these guys in the CURRENT configuration, let alone one where you’re giving a vet 450 PAs.

      To me, there’s no lazier designation than “4A,” ESPECIALLY when it comes to guys like Mitchell and Cowgill. They’re athletic players who’ve always had the tools to succeed, and have clearly made lots of progress turning them into baseball skills. It’s no accident that Cardenas, Mitchell, Allen, and Taylor have all been very highly-regarded prospects at one time–we’re not talking about some standard-issue 150-K 1B who can hit 30 balls over the friendly fences of the PCL.

      It would be one thing if we just had one or two of these guys–as Allen’s early MLB returns show, they aren’t guarantees to work out. But, get enough “4A” guys together, and someone’s bound to look out. Look at what Cust did for the A’s for a few years, or what McGehee did in Milwaukee, or Ryan Roberts in Arizona. Heck, I remember when Nelson Cruz was written off as a “4A” guy! Point is, we have so much quantity here that we’re bound to have someone that sticks, and we need to keep as much PT available as possible to figure out who can translate their AAA stats and who can’t.

      Re: your third paragraph–300 PA is nevertheless much better than 0. It’s certainly going to be much more valuable than simply assuming “4A.” And I strongly disagree with the idea that Josh Reddick–who put up nearly 2 WAR in just 87 games last year–has been “unimpressive.” Even Allen had a big hot streak when he joined the A’s, and it’s probably worth giving him a bit more time to adjust and see if he can find a groove again.

      I do agree with your final point re: 1 or 2 draft slots not being much different, and not something to really worry about, but I find it far more valuable to use 2012 to evaluate a good portion of the 2011 River Cats.

      • January 3, 2012 1:43 pm

        I wasn’t referring to Cowgill, Taylor, Allen or anyone on the current 40-man roster with my AAAA comment. I was referring to guys like Pridie, Moss, Fiorentino, etc.

        I’d sign Ross and start the season with Ross, Cowgill, Reddick as the starting OFs and Taylor in AAA. (I have no objection to Taylor just playing now, but it seems the A’s want him to dominate at AAA and earn it, probably because he’s still viewed as a legit part of the long-term, so they aren’t ready for sink-or-swim with him.) You could mix Allen in 4 days a week between 1B, DH and LF.

        If you’re not trying to win, then you don’t have to play your best lineup every day. Look at what they do in spring training — they just try to spread out the playing time so as many people as possible get as many PAs as possible. Just do the same, on a smaller scale, in the regular season.

        There will be plenty of room for the Reddicks, and Carters and Allens to sink or swim with 300 PAs. Trust me.

        By the way, I’d much rather have Ross than Ludwick or Jackson, because Ross can play all 3 OF positions, so it makes the lineup more flexible.

      • January 3, 2012 9:15 pm

        Replying at this point is a moot point. But Jeff, we disagreed on the one-year deal, how do you feel about Coco for two (plus an option)? Obviously (as I state in my new post about it) if I wasn’t enthralled with an outfielder being added for one year (and it wasn’t a problem with Ross specifically, he could be swapped out for Damon, or shoot Coco too) you can imagine I am fall less enthused about a two year signing. Whats your take?

        Thanks for commenting too!

  2. January 3, 2012 5:34 pm

    And it looks like it is Coco coming back instead according to MLB trade rumors.

    Not sure I see the reason behind that one either, but I would rather watch Coco be Coco than Cody Ross out there.

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