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Jake Fox and the As’ Roster Crunch

[Author’s note: slightly modified to correct my bad arithmetic]

I recently wrote about Oakland’s roster, but there is one thing I didn’t get to: the fate of Jake Fox. Assuming that the As go with 12 pitchers, then the 9 starters, that leaves 4 spots on the 25-man roster. One spot will be taken by backup catcher Landon Powell. Franchise Centerpiece Utility Man Eric Chavez is in as a backup 1B/3B. Adam Rosales is the only player on the roster who could back up Cliff Pennington at shortstop, so he’s in as the backup middle infielder.

That leaves one for four candidates: Gabe Gross, Travis Buck, Eric Patterson, and Jake Fox. Gross and Buck are both decent outfielders, but Gross was acquired for a reason, and he should make the roster. Travis Buck still has an option, so he’ll probably head back to the minors. That assemblage means that Patterson and Fox won’t make the cut, but given that neither has options remaining, they would be exposed to waivers. If the As were to bite the bullet and DFA Zombie Eric Chavez, which should they keep?

While Patterson has played second base, his defense reportedly isn’t that great there. With Rosales presumably making the team for his greater infield defensive abilities, the speedy Patterson would need to make the team on the basis of his abilities as an outfielder. One might make the argument that Gross is really only a corner outfielder, so the As need a backup for center. While I think his defensive numbers show that Gross could be at least adequate in center, it doesn’t matter because, as has often been remarked, the As are already starting three center fielders in Rajai Davis, Coco Crisp, and Ryan Sweeney. If Crisp goes down, the As can move Davis or Sweeney into center, and put Gross in the corner. Offensively, both CHONE and ZiPS project Patterson for a .320 wOBA, which isn’t all that great.

Jake Fox is clearly a better hitter than Patterson, but where he fits on the team is another issue. While he’s probably a terrible third baseman, he wouldn’t kill the team if he had to play there or first base occasionally, and Rosales can cover third when they need a defensive replacement. Fox might be able to cut it as an emergency fifth outfielder, but that’s not much of an argument for keeping him on the roster, and neither is his potential as an emergency catcher.

Eric Patterson has his uses, and I could see why the As would be loathe to let him go. It’s a tough (if relatively trivial) choice, but I’d go with Fox. He could be platooned with Jack Cust at DH, or play first when Barton needs a rest. Given his CHONE and ZiPS projections, I estimate Fox’s ability versus left-handed pitching to be around .350 wOBA. Given that most of the As’ decent hitters are left-handed, that is likely to be more useful than a fifth-outfielder/pinch-runner.

Of course, this assumes the As are willing to finally cut ties with the injury-ravaged remains of Eric Chavez, and whether they would ever contemplate that, or whether it’s even a good idea, is a post for another day.