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.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


46 Responses to “Coco Crisp to Oakland?”

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  1. BX says:

    I’m betting Beane’s got some sort of plan, because this is absolutely confusing. Blocking Cunningham is stupid, and Sweeney is pretty much installed somewhere in the OF. I could see Beane platooning Sweeney and Hairston in a corner (wouldn’t be too smart in CF), playing Crisp in CF, and Cunningham in the other corner. However, the money would be much better spent on a starting pitcher.

    Even pre-2009, Rajai Davis can be an above average player. However, Rajai got this reputation as this “leader” figure with intangibles after his career year in ’09. If they can trade him for prospects, namely someone who is likely to stick at SS (or 3B, although they have Cardenas there), that would be awesome.

    Beane should be talking to Jim Hendry about Davis right about now. Simply because Hendry isn’t the smartest GM in the bunch, and the Cubs need CF.

    I’m assuming Taylor starts in AAA and probably spends the whole season in AAA.

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    • Jamie says:

      I seem to recall the Cubs were sniffing around Rajai Davis before they fell out of contention last summer. This strikes me as the most likely scenario right now, but I wouldn’t hold out for Starlin Castro. Hendry’s not the shiniest rock in the tumbler, but I don’t think he’s that dumb.

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  2. recca says:

    Maybe I’m in the minority here but I would feel a little uneasy going into the season with my outfield being Sweeney, Davis, and (insert prospect here). Adding Crisp gives you a good amount of insurance as you pretty much know what you are going to get for him. Sweeney and Davis are a bit more unreliable.

    The A’s don’t really have to keep Crisp the whole year, if he plays well he will probably be shopped around the league. I think this is a good move for the A’s, low cost, low risk, and most importantly short term.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      I always chuckle when I hear people suggest that teams are going to sign a free agent that no one really wants, then trade him for prospects at the deadline. The same people not signing Coco Crisp right now will still be running teams in July.

      If he plays well and shows that the labrum surgery isn’t going to destroy his career, the A’s will be able to move his contract for a C- prospect or two. But unless he flips out and hits 20 home runs by the end of June, he’s not going to be a particularly valuable trade chip this summer.

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      • Jacob Jackson says:

        Chuckle if you must, but it’s exactly what Beane did last year with Orlando Cabrera. Despite an awful first half from O-Cab, he still yielded a C prospect in return.

        The A’s can always swallow additonal salary to make that prospect return into a C+ guy. That’s nothing to shrug at – it’s one more C+ guy than the system had before. And it’s one of the reasons that the A’s have outstanding bullpens and an above-average 26-40 of their 40-man roster.

        The key to this deal and to Crisp is the positional scarcity – both with O-Cab last year at short and Crisp this year in center. If a major league contender’s starting CF goes down with an injury at some point this year, the A’s will have the best CF surplus in baseball. That has value.

        That’s why this move makes more sense than signing a DH or a middle reliever, both of which the market is flooded with. The market is not flooded with plus defensive CFs.

        I also like that this deal has a 2011 option. Look at next year’s FA outfielder class. There’s Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, and…absolutely nothing. Coco Crisp, injuries and all, would be the best CFer on next year’s free agent market. The A’s now hold an option to bring that player back, or trade him to a CF-desperate team.

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      • PL says:

        Exactly Jacob, this move is like those team’s who draft the best possible player instead of their most pressing need. A desperate team will absolutely take on a healthy Crisp for even a B prospect if he’s playing well either this year or next.

        I see Crisp-Davis-Sweeney vs RHP and Hairston-Davis-Crisp vs LHP in 2010. Perhaps a Hairston trade to open up some time for Taylor. Davis for Callaspo might happen too. In that case both Sweeney or Crisp could slide back into CF.

        Oakland really has so many tradeable players right now:

        -Mark Ellis: About to lose his job to Cardenas. In a contract year.
        -Travis Buck: Complaining about PT, maybe deserves a shot elsewhere before he’s too old.
        -Daric Barton: Has too many giants behind him. 1B is where the big guys who hit HR play, and he hasnt done enough to show he’s locked 1B down.
        -Aaron Cunningham: Just another solid prospect stuck behind too many ones with higher ceilings.
        -Raj Davis: Flip him while he’s hot?
        -Scott Hairston: Move him back to the NL where he belongs? Or at least move him so he’s not blocking Taylor anymore.

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      • PeteD says:

        “Chuckle if you must, but it’s exactly what Beane did last year with Orlando Cabrera. Despite an awful first half from O-Cab, he still yielded a C prospect in return.”

        Didn’t the A’s give up a second round pick for signing Cabrera, and then send $500K along with him to the Twins for a C prospect? So they spent $2.75MM in salary, an extra $500K to move him, and a second round pick for half a season of Orlando Cabrera and a C prospect?

        Someone with a much better idea of the value of a second round pick could say if that was a good move or not, but on the surface it doesn’t seem like a great one to me by any stretch.

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      • Jacob Jackson says:

        Your point is well taken, PeteD – the finality of O-Cab’s brief tenure in Oakland – his performance, the loss of the pick, the money spent, and the “C” prospect that came back – looks abysmal in hindsight.

        But it would’ve been hard to predict beforehand how terrible O-Cab ended up being in his time with Oakland, both offensively and defensively. And yet still, another team found him useful and worth acquiring. To me, this illustrates the benefit of acquiring surplus players at scarce positions – SS and CF.

        If the A’s had signed Cust and he had tanked in 2010, he would’ve been utterly worthless to all 30 teams. No team would’ve taken on any of his salary or traded even a “C” prospect for him if he were having a poor 2010 season.

        But the Cabrera experiment, even as poorly as it ended, illustrates that the circumstances are different with a player who plays a plus defensive position that’s scarce on the open market. Even if Crisp underperforms, as Cabrera did, he or Rajai Davis will still be very tradeable chips, simply of the liklihood that a contender’s CFer goes down with an injury and the A’s have depth to part with one.

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    • Wally says:

      Exactly. This allows the A’s to go into the season with Taylor in AAA, slowing down his arbitration clock, and figuring out who sticks between Crisp and Davis. If the A’s are out of it in July, trade the one or both, that actually have value and plug in the prospects. If they are doing well, only plug in the ones that have been tearing up AAA, maybe trade any extrenous pieces for something else they need for a run at the AL west. It just gives the A’s options at a low cost. I don’t find it that confusing at all.

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      • lincolndude says:

        If you want to keep all three of your prospects in AAA, why not just use Hairston/Davis/Sweeney as your starting outfield? That’s basically a three CF outfield already. There’s no reason to throw out another $5 million for a player that is, at the very most, a marginal improvement over one of those guys.

        Maybe they really do intend to start all the young guys in AAA and are trying to flatten out their risk curve, as Dave outlined in an article a few weeks back.

        Also, is it just me, or does Sweeney seem like a guy who still has a chance to develop some power? If there’s still a trade in the works, I really hope it’s Hairston or Davis. Sweeney hasn’t hit his ceiling yet.

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      • BX says:

        Yeah, I can very easily see Sweeney putting up several above average MLB seasons. Not really power, but solid numbers.

        Not the guy to trade, at all.

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      • PL says:

        Hairston is pretty awful against RHP. Sweeney isnt great against LHP. It aint rocket surgery here folks…

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  3. My guess is the A’s will try to win without having to score runs. Their model must show that pitching and defense are 100% of the game.

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    • BX says:

      If this was some sort of sarcastic joke, someone forgot about the Mariners of 2009. Who actually were pretty good.

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      • The A’s line-up Jake Fox, Cliff Pennington, Mark Ellis and Daric Barton with Kurt Suzuki in the infield. Rajai, Crisp and Sweeney in the OF.

        I’m comfortable in my sarcasm.

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      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        Seattle’s expected W/L record was 75-87 in 09. So define “pretty good?”

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      • BIP says:

        And their WAR-based record was 83-79. Please don’t just throw pythag out there without first understanding that it is a VERY blunt tool for analyzing a team’s performance.

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  4. Paul B says:

    Maybe this is a result of shopping for undervalued resources. The downside weakness to that approach, taken to an extreme, is that you end up with an oversupply of one type of player (one of the types that everyone else undervalues).

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  5. lincolndude says:

    If you could find someone to take Rajai Davis now, after he’s just played quite a bit over his head offensively, you could still field an outfield of Sweeney in center, Hairston in left, and Cunningham/Buck/Taylor (take your pick out of camp) in right. Still a very nice defensive OF package, composed entirely of cost-controlled, league-average hitters.

    Not only is Crisp an extra outfielder that will now block prospects, he’s several times more expensive than the other, equivalent extra outfielders that they already have.

    I don’t say this often, but I hate this move by the A’s.

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  6. MLBfan says:

    Actually i dont see most of their OFs as sure things, so it isnt terrible to build up depth
    The contract is closer to about 4.5 mill,. buck has fallen out of favor and they didnt bother calling up cunningham last sept. So both obviously have issues to work on. Taylor only has 100 something abs at the AAA level. A’s have 4 passable cf types in crisp, hairston, sweeney, and rajai.A handful of teams barely have 1, so you would expect some trade.

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  7. KCRfan10 says:

    Supposedly there’s discussion of a ryan sweeney for alex gordon trade in the works. Wow interesting deal. I would guess both teams fill their needs andhave enough depth to go ahead with a deal. Callaspo could shift to 3b and A’s just replace one of their many OF’s.

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    • lincolndude says:

      Don’t know anything about this trade rumor, but, ok, I could see that.

      So the reasoning is, sign a CF bargain so that you can trade one of your even bigger CF bargains to fill an area of need — third base.

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    • Suzuki's Ulcer says:

      Wait, where is this Sweeney-Gordon talk coming from? Who said this was being worked on?

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  8. geo says:

    Given his double labrum surgery, and the uncertainty that he will even be available at the beginning of the season (despite what he says), $5 million is way too much. Yes, IF he produces at his past rate, and IF he is able to play all season, clearly he’s worth $5 million – but those are big ifs. The Royals would like to have resigned him, but not for those kind of $$. This doesn’t strike me as a Billy Beane-type move.

    And what? Alex Gordon for Ryan Sweeney? I can’t see that happening.

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  9. Tim_the_Beaver says:

    add to this that the A’s decided to turn down Cust for (what will hopefully turn out to be) some sort of cheaper copy in Jake Fox.

    which begs the question, why not actually just resign Cust? seems like pretty much the move they went with when they signed Coco.

    plus Coco only played 49 games last year… hm.

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  10. MBD says:

    I agree that the As must be planning to trade someone, and my guess is it’s Davis. He stole 41 bases last year and OBP’d .360, based in part on his high BABIP of .366. Someone is going to overvalue those numbers (because they ignore the last one) and give Beane more than they should for a 29-year-old OF with no power. Sweeney will be 25 next season and may still develop as a hitter. Crisp fills in for a year while they figure out which of the young OFs will stick.

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    • lincolndude says:

      I agree and hope it’s Davis. He’s the type of player that is generally undervalued, but that’s starting to swing back the other way as teams like Seattle and Pittsburgh are demonstrating how to get tons of value out of this type of player.

      Maybe they stay ahead of the curve and convince some team that Davis is the next Gutierrez.

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    • Hasn’t Beane’s alpha-adding ability been arbitraged away by now? I don’t expect anyone to take his excess at a premium.

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  11. Paul says:

    I think this signing allows them to trade two of their “excess” CFers. Obviously the best case scenario would be Rajai or Hairston for value. Over a 3 year span Hairston played roughly league average defense in CF. With a ~50% FB rate and good power, Hairston would provide nice value in a small park. There are several teams now looking for a CF, and none on the market either this year or next. I think Billy has collected them on purpose to parlay them for value at other positions of scarcity.

    My first thought reading this was the Callaspo rumors from last month. If it’s Gordon instead for Sweeney and maybe Donaldson, I’m all for it. CF and C and huge needs for KC throughout the entire organization and Callaspo at 3B is a better fit in their park. Oddly enough, if the Sweeney deal goes down the Royals would have DeJesus-Sweeney-Maier left to right, which might be a better defense than what the A’s wind up with. And this despite Dayton’s lack of understanding about defensive metrics. Hmmmm, all the sudden grain of salt…

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  12. Alexmullen4180 says:

    What about the A’s going after Mike Lowell now that Texas passed on him. He might be a good fit at #b for OAK for the year, especially if Boston is picking up 3/4 of his salary. They could trade Hairston for him and they would save money because Hairston will probably make more than 3Mil in arby.

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  13. Daniel B says:

    I don’t think there is any trick here. I think Beane is just adding as much depth as he can knowing that one of Davis, Sweeney and Hairston won’t live up to expectations and/or will just not be an everyday player. Buck is seemingly expendable, Cunningham hasn’t proven much and probably needs more seasoning if anything, same goes for Taylor. Hairston has never played a full season and they have a DH spot open if they don’t get another 3B or Barton flops. Besides, Sweeney, Buck and Crisp get injured often.

    Remember how everyone was talking about how the Red Sox had eight starters last year? A little bust here, a couple injuries there and they’re signing Paul Byrd come August. Same goes for the Rangers with their supposed supply of catchers, scrounging for the bones of Pudge. Or the Phillies with their pitching.

    Depth is the key. Everything is fine and dandy with trading your surplus until you’ve called up a career minor leaguer to start for a month and it costs you the division.

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    • Paul says:

      All of that is true, except that it doesn’t apply to the A’s. They cannot seriously hope to contend this season with a developmental rotation. Beane needs more pitching and cost controlled players in positions of scarcity. Trade solid all-around CFers, cost-controlled players, especially as defensive metrics become more important and naturally over-rated as the market digests that information, and you can get those things done. Hoarding and dealing ++ defensive CFers at a premium in this environment is a classic Moneyball strategy. I’d be really disappointed in Beane if this is not what he’s doing.

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      • Daniel B says:

        There’s the possibility that Sweeney and Davis aren’t worth that much on the market given their 1 good half. I don’t think many teams rely on UZR anyway, and who knows what they think of the A’s surplus? Because, right or wrong that’s what matters. Beane hasn’t given the impression he expects the team to compete this year. There is something to be said about being an average team, though. Perhaps he’s content with inching towards average and doesn’t care whether or not they do anything more. Which is kind of a poor way of doing it, if you ask me. I don’t expect them to be worse than last year, anyway. Kind of like how they got Holliday knowing he’d be gone after a year. I know what Dave said, but he’s ignoring the fact that teams don’t want Crisp because he had a lost season last year. If Crisp shows he can play like he has in the past he’ll be worth more than a C- prospect or two.

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  14. teamboras says:

    As far as talent goes and contract situiation how much more valuable would Carlos Gomez be between Rajai Davis, Ryan Swenney, Travis Buck or any of the other dudes the A’s have?

    Its odd Billy Beane wasn’t able to fill the talent gap between Gomez and one of these guys to acquire J.J Hardy. Unless the gap is larger than I think it is.

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    • BX says:

      Ryan Sweeney/Aaron Cunningham = Carlos Gomez. Gomez and Cunningham have more upside, but Sweeney’s shown much more in MLB.

      The Rajai Davis thing could be Doug Melvin doesn’t want someone approaching 30 who just had a massive, massive career year. I could see someone else buying into his career year.

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      • Jacob Jackson says:

        Or it’s possible that the A’s very pessimistic about J.J. Hardy’s true offensive ability. He didn’t just have a fluky BABIP last year; he had a horrible approach at the plate that needs to be completely rebuild.

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  15. Joe R says:

    This is assuming the A’s want Taylor in the majors in 2010, and I don’t think they do. At least not much of him.

    Let him crush some AAA pitching, then he can be a mid-800′s OPS guy right out of the blocks in 2011.

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  16. philosofool says:

    Here’s my speculative suggestion:

    Beane and company have started an in-depth look into player analysis. They’ve discovered that young players are often lead to MLB before they reach the peak of what they can learn in the minors. The result is that you start their arbitration clocks before they give you maximum production at the MLB level. A smarter model is to keep their arbitration clocks on hold until they’re MLB ready.

    Of course, to do that, you have to find stop-gap options to play for you until the ones on the farm have reached their peek.

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    • lincolndude says:

      Interesting, but what about jumping Cahill and Anderson to MLB last year after only minimal AA exposure?

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      • BX says:

        That made sense if they were trading for Matt Holliday, blocking Barton by signing Giambi, and trying to contend.

        Although I don’t think trying to contend in ’09 made any sense whatsoever, and thus I think rushing Anderson and Cahill up was stupid.

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      • Jacob Jackson says:

        pitchers are more likely to get hurt than hitters; I’m less concerned with rushing a pitcher to the big leagues because you might as well milk everything you can out of them while they are healthy.

        Hitters follow a more linear development curve and get hurt less. So to me, all else being equal, it makes more sense to delay hitters that extra year in AAA than it does with pitchers.

        That said, I wish Cahill had stayed down last year. I wonder if they consciously wanted to keep Cahill and Anderson up together, as if having the two highly touted 21-year-olds in the rotation developing and dealing with major league life together would be somehow better than separating them.

        I also agree that it wouldn’t have happened if they had some semblance of decent alternatives last year. E-Gon doesn’t qualify.

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  17. Renegade says:

    The infatuation with Billy Beane is something I will never understand. All he does is replace prospects with other prospects, year after year. Michael Taylor is big league ready yet he signs Coco Crisp? So Taylor will spend the year in AAA and be in the Bigs when he’s 25? I don’t get it.

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    • Garrett says:

      So Beane will control Taylor for one year longer during his peak years. I don’t see how this strategy is hard to understand.

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    • Joe R says:

      The A’s probably aren’t a contender in 2010. If they are, they bring up Taylor. Hooray.

      And Beane should be commended, he made what people considered a “home run swing” on a trade, and still came away with an improvement.

      Taylor will probably be better than CarGo, and Huston Street, who cares?

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  18. ... says:

    Philosofool,

    Nice thought. If a player’s peak age is something like 27 to 31, why bring him up at 22? Why not let them prove they can dominate AAA and bring them up at 25 and give them 2 years to “learn the league” before they peak at 27?

    “I always chuckle when I hear people suggest that teams are going to sign a free agent that no one really wants”

    If nobody wants Mr. Crisp, why don’t the A’s sign him for the league minimum?

    “The same people not signing Coco Crisp right now will still be running teams in July. ”

    Are these same people going to have the same center fielders in July?

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