The signing of Yoenis Cespedes means at least one talented A's youngster is going to end up on a bus to Triple-A in 2012.
The Athletics had more outfielders than they knew what to do with before they made Yoenis Cespedes their highest-paid player on Monday. Given that distinction -- plus the fact Cespedes has far more upside than anyone else in Oakland's lineup -- it's obvious he's going to be entrenched in one of the outfield slots. But what about the other half-dozen outfielders and DH/first base types on the roster, who are now even more unsure of their role on the 2012 Athletics?
Prior to the Cespedes acquisition, Oakland's outfield looked to be Seth Smith (acquired from the Rockies for Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso) in left field, Coco Crisp (re-signed for two years, $13 million with a 2014 option) once again manning center, and Josh Reddick (part of the return package from the Red Sox in exchange for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney) setting up in right. It wasn't perfect, but it was an outfield.
The A's also signed Jonny Gomes at the end of January, picked up Collin Cowgill in the Trevor Cahill swap, and already had Michael Taylor and Jermaine Mitchell in tow. Acquiring every outfielder they could get their hands on should tell you how the organization feels about Taylor and Mitchell, but the pair is taking up roster space somewhere regardless.
Who gets bumped now that Cespedes is aboard? Crisp is the only real center fielder on the team, and ranks below Cespedes in terms of contract value. That leaves a fight for the remaining corner outfield spot.
Seth Smith is a career .275/.348/.485 hitter, but that line comes with multiple caveats. For one, Smith can't hit lefties at all: nearly all of his production over the years has come against righties, a group he's hit .290/.364/.518 against in 1,210 plate appearances. Flailing against lefties is preferable to the other way around, given there are far more innings thrown by right-handed hurlers, but Smith has never shown much of a bat outside of Coors Field, either. He's a career .296/.366/.559 hitter at Coors, and has hit just .257/.332/.418 on the road. His 2012 home line, if anything, will be worse thanks to the pitching-friendly environment of Oakland.
Josh Reddick is less proven than Smith, but given what we are expecting out of the latter, that's not a bad thing. Reddick hit .280/.327/.457 for the Red Sox in 2011, good for a 109 OPS+ and .286 True Average that bested the right field average. His glove is also productive, as he has a great arm for right field, and enough range that he can fake it out in center if need be. His bat was inconsistent, with Reddick hitting much better early on, but he also played through September with a wrist injury that required off-season surgery, and has a track record of success in the minors.
He doesn't have the walk rates that you've come to expect from the Athletics, but he's not impatient, taking 3.83 pitches per plate appearance in 2012. He fouls a lot of pitches off, and tends to work the count until he gets a pitch he thinks he can hit. Sometimes, though, he thinks he can hit everything, and that's when he gets off track. He might end up needing some days off against lefties, too, but he's been fine against them to this point in his career, whereas we already know where Smith stands with them.
Reddick has upside, and while his floor is also lower than the more-established Smith, that upside makes him the smarter play out of the two. Throw in that he's the superior defensive player, and he's more likely to contribute on those days where his bat doesn't have it.
Those two aren't the only ones vying for playing time, though. Cowgill was in line to try to earn a big-league job after a .354/.430/.554 season with the Diamondbacks's Triple-A affiliate. As a career .299/.383/.490 minor league hitter heading into his age-26 season, Cowgill, like Reddick, is going to have to be given a shot to succeed or fail soon. Unlike Smith, but like Reddick, Cowgill has the defensive chops to make playing him while he figures things out offensively worthwhile, and could also stick in center momentarily should Crisp go down with an injury.
The A's essentially have two Reddicks sitting around (or two Cowgills, depending on your preferences): two well-regarded lottery tickets who could turn out to be pretty useful pieces for a team willing and able to give them the playing time. We're not quite sure if the A's are either of those things, though.
This is without getting into where Gomes' bat is going make its appearances, how much the rent in Taylor and Mitchell's Sacramento apartment is going to cost, or when Chris Carter will get a chance to show whether he is or is not capable of hitting 30-plus homers in the majors. Carter isn't an outfielder in anything but name, but his path to playing time as a DH isn't clear either, thanks to the presence of Gomes, Brandon Allen, and Kila Ka'aihue.
The A's have options, and that's not a bad thing. They've got insurance policies taken out on their insurance policies when it comes to outfielders and first base/DH types. There are only so many plate appearances and starts to go around, though. Oakland's roster situation just doesn't make a whole lot of sense right now, since at least one of Reddick or Cowgill is going to be the odd man out on a team that's trying to figure out that pair's future.