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Oakland’s First Base Situation Following Chris Carter Trade

Last night the Athletics and Astros agreed to a five-player trade that, in fantasy essence, swapped Jed Lowrie for Chris Carter. Mike Podhorzer already looked at what the move to Houston means for Carter earlier this morning, but the trade also impacts the first base situation in Oakland. Based on their success last year, it seemed likely that manager Bob Melvin would again platoon Carter (a right-handed bat) with Brandon Moss (a left-handed bat). Now he’s left without an obvious right-handed first base bat.

I wrote about Moss last week, explaining why I’m pretty skeptical about him heading into 2013. It’s not that he’s a bad player or anything, just that I don’t expect him to perform anywhere near the 40+ homer, 162 wRC+ pace he played at in the second half. He is a nice fantasy bench piece given his 1B and OF eligibility, but not someone I would stick in my lineup everyday because he himself was not going to play everyday for the Athletics. The trade could change that.

With no obvious right-handed platoon partner, Moss will be exposed to more left-handers — there is a decent number of southpaws in the AL West, including Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, and Jason Vargas — and that might not be such a problem. He’s hit .260/.338/.449 against minor league lefties over the last two seasons and he went into 2012 with a career .246/.321/.377 line against big league lefties. His .293/.339/.431 line against southpaws last summer came in just 62 plate appearances. Moss does have a track record of at least holding his own against southpaws, but we’re not looking for guys who just hold their own in fantasy.

The only other pure first base option on the Athletics’ 40-man roster is sabr-darling Daric Barton. We’re now two full seasons removed from his .273/.393/.405 (126 wRC+) breakout in 2010, a performance that was far more valuable in OBP and linear weights leagues than traditional 5×5 setups. A first baseman who slugs ten homers in nearly 700 plate appearances isn’t exactly a hot commodity. Anyway, Barton has hit just .209/.329/.275 in 416 big league plate appearances over the last two years while battling injuries to both shoulders. He is out of minor league options and figures to stick with the big league club in some capacity.

It’s probably worth digging up some platoon data at this point…

PA AVG ISO BB% K% BABIP wRC+
Moss vs. RHP 843 0.261 0.204 8.1% 25.3% 0.321 103
Moss vs. LHP 202 0.249 0.133 8.9% 22.3% 0.302 94
Barton vs. RHP 1,368 0.236 0.109 14.6% 16.4% 0.244 94
Barton vs. LHP 553 0.281 0.159 13.5% 17.3% 0.334 131

Neither guy has been a big leaguer for a particularly long time, so these are career stats spanning small chunks of playing time across several seasons. Not the best sample but it’s all we have.

Barton, as you’ll notice, has a pretty significant reverse split, hitting for more power and a considerably higher AVG and BABIP against same-side pitchers. Much of that playing time against lefties (188 PA) came during his big 2010 season (149 wRC+). Melvin’s a smart guy and obviously in-tune with platoon data, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Moss and Barton were used in an unconventional first base platoon (with Barton getting the at-bats against lefties) to at least start the season. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t change Moss’ fantasy outlook any from last week’s post. Barton won’t have much value until he shows he’s can actually produce again, and even then his lack of power limits his usefulness.

Looking long-term for keeper leagues, the Athletics have an obvious first base solution in Miles Head. The 21-year-old hit .333/.391/.577 with 32 doubles and 23 homers in 124 games split almost evenly between High-A and Double-A last season after coming over as part of the Andrew Bailey trade. His strikeouts — 24.7 K% in 2012 but 20.4 K% career — are a bit of a concern, but his right-handed power could be very useful come 2014 if either Barton or Moss takes the job and runs with it this year. For now, the first base situation in Oakland is rather fluid — I wouldn’t be surprised if Josh Donaldson got some reps there as well — and the trade doesn’t change much about how I view Moss and Barton. Moss is a solid extra piece and Barton is a lottery ticket.