Coco Crisp to Oakland?

We’ve seen some really good moves and some really bad moves this winter, but by and large, every move has at least been fairly easy to understand. Even the Brandon Lyon contract isn’t confusing – Ed Wade overvalues middle relievers and got fooled into thinking Lyon is good by his low ERA. It’s a terrible contract, but it’s pretty easy to see what happened.

Now, though, we have our first head-scratcher of the winter. The A’s are reportedly on the verge of signing Coco Crisp to a one year, $5 million deal. Now, Crisp is a decent player – he’s racked up +15.7 WAR in 832 career games, averaging about 2.7 WAR per 600 plate appearances. He’s a very good defensive outfielder and has been about a league average hitter for most of his career. That’s a good combination.

Overall, the whole package is worth about +1.5 to +2 wins over a full season. For $5 million, the A’s are seemingly getting a pretty good value relative to market rates in previous years. And, there’s not much risk, given the short term nature of the deal.

So, why doesn’t this signing make sense? Because the A’s already have two copies of this exact player type, and no shortage of outfielders looking for at-bats. Let’s start with the Crisp clones, Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney.

UZR loved both last year, giving Davis a +11.9 rating in about 2/3 of a season in center field, while Sweeney got a +15.5 in half a season of right field and another +6.8 in 1/3 of a season in center field. They’re both terrific defenders in the outfield, even if they aren’t as good as their 2009 numbers imply. And they are both essentially close to league average offensive players.

They offer the same skills that Crisp does, only for a fraction of the cost. Adding him to the group gives the A’s three outfielders with the same basic skill set. It is possible, I guess, that this group will be the starting outfield for Oakland in 2010, and they’ll attempt to put the best outfield defenders in baseball behind their pitching staff. But if that is the plan, what do they do with Scott Hairston, Aaron Cunningham, Travis Buck, and the newly acquired Michael Taylor?

Hairston, after all, wasn’t free – they just traded several prospects to get him over the summer, and while he wasn’t very good after the trade, the A’s are supposed to be an organization that doesn’t react to small sample sizes. It seems like a waste of resources to pay the price they paid to get him if he’s only going to serve as the right-hand portion of an outfield platoon.

You could make a pretty good case that Buck, Cunningham and Taylor could use more time in Triple-A, but they’re all close to major league ready. Do they need a full year in the minors? Probably not. But the Crisp acquisition makes it nearly impossible for any of them to start the year in Oakland, and barring multiple trades, they’ll likely be spending most of the year in Sacramento.

It seems like a trade of either Davis or Sweeney must be in the making. But then, there’s the issue of what you’ll get for this player type, as the entire reason you got Crisp for a decent salary is that the market doesn’t value these guys high enough. If the team that may be trading for either of the two defensive specialists was in the market for that kind of player, why didn’t they just sign Crisp themselves?

It’s just weird. Perhaps Billy Beane has a master plan that has yet to be fully revealed, but at this point in time, this signing is a head scratcher.

Print This Post

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.