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Coco Crisp reports to A’s camp — battle for center field should be interesting

Coco Crisp reported to A’s camp Thursday and addressed his status as the A’s center fielder. The addition of Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, whose four-year, $36 million contract should be finalized in a week or so, could bump Crisp to left field, as Cespedes primarily has been a center fielder himself. Rest assured this will be one of the best storylines this spring for the A’s.

“I’m just going to go out there and have fun and everything is going to fall where it falls,” Crisp said. “If anybody is better than me, I’ll give him that … and I will take my cap off … but if they’re not, then I’ll say that too.”

A’s manager Bob Melvin declined to discuss Cespedes since he’s not under contract yet, but he does plan to talk with Crisp soon about the situation. Melvin said lots of factors come into play with choosing a center fielder. The afternoon sun at the Coliseum makes playing center a challenge during day games, for example, which could give Crisp an advantage because he’s played there for two seasons. But the A’s also will want Cespedes to play a position where he’s most comfortable as he transitions to a new country and an increased level of competition.

I’ve read some viewpoints that question how valuable Crisp really is in center. My opinion might clash with what the sabermetric fielding stats suggest, but from watching Crisp play center on a daily basis last season, I thought he was very impressive. He covers a ton of ground left to right. Granted, his below-average arm is a liability, and base runners usually went first to third on a single to center without hesitation. But many runners will get from first to third on a lot of singles no matter who is playing center. And there’s no guarantee that runners wouldn’t challenge Crisp’s arm in left field and still advance from first to third depending on where the ball is hit.

It certainly makes sense to play Cespedes where he’s most comfortable, which may benefit his hitting too. But if Cespedes shows good ability in right field and has a strong enough arm for it, it might make sense to play him there and keep Crisp in center to maximize Crisp’s defensive value. In that case, Josh Reddick or whoever that third outfielder will be can play left (although Reddick may prove to be a very capable right fielder himself).

Crisp went out of his way to say he’s excited about Cespedes’ addition as a potential impact bat in the middle of the order. He was also asked about the possibility of moving from center to make another player more comfortable, as opposed to flat-out being beaten for the job.

“Of course I could see that,” he said, “but I’m not going to be happy with that.”

Joe Stiglich