Coco Crisp was back in the A’s lineup Tuesday in Arlington, Texas, starting in center field after sitting out Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers.
That’s 94 games this season for the A’s outfielder, which puts him on a pace to play in 127 games by season’s end. And that’s sort of an important number for Crisp, because it means his A’s career may be over come October.
Crisp is concerned that the pattern of his days off is deliberately designed to keep him from reaching 130 games. That’s the number stipulated in his contract that will trigger an automatic $13 million contract with Oakland for 2017. By playing in 129 or fewer games, he would become a free agent.
The outfielder says he hasn’t talked with executive vice president Billy Beane or general manager David Forst, and his last talk about playing time with manager Bob Melvin came at the beginning of the month, just after the club traded outfielder Josh Reddick. Since then Crisp has played in 11 of 15 games, including getting back-to-back days off Sunday against Seattle and Monday against Texas.
Crisp said he didn’t know who’d made the decision to limit his playing time, whether it came from up above or if it was strictly a managerial decision.
“I couldn’t tell you either way,” he said. “I would have to be in one of the meetings to know what was going on. I do know strings are being pulled.”
Beane is on vacation and Forst didn’t return a request for comment.
Crisp will be 37 next season, and despite head and neck injuries that gutted much of the 2014 and 2015 seasons, he’s healthy enough now that he’d like to play in 2017. And he’d like it to be with the A’s, for whom he’s played since 2010.
Crisp, who first aired his grievance with the San Francisco Chronicle, had three hits on Saturday. He sat Sunday and Monday against left-handed starting. But Melvin has told the switch-hitter that he won’t be starting against lefties. Apparently that is a firm rule in the A’s firmament, because Monday’s Texas lefty, Martin Perez, is someone against whom Crisp has a career .350 batting average.
Crisp’s agent, Steve Comte, said “all you have to do is look at the numbers.”
“The A’s always play the numbers game, and Coco had good numbers against Perez,” Comte said. “I’ve known Billy for years and he and David are first-class. And Bob Melvin is a terrific manager. But in this case, an injustice is being done.”
Crisp missed most of last year with head and neck injuries. He takes muscle relaxers daily to help him get to where he can play. But he says, and Melvin confirms, that he is healthy.
“Things have to be handled appropriately,” Crisp said. “The contract states `in good health.’ That’s the main thing, and I’ve been in spurts where I’m playing well, then they sit me down. I haven’t played in a couple of years consistently due to injury, where I’ve sacrificed my body to the betterment of the team. Now that I’m finally starting to feel better, they’re finding places to sit me.
“I haven’t felt this good in a couple of years. And once they traded Reddick, I assumed I’d play more, but they have made some player moves that have thrown a monkey wrench into the situation. I’m like `OK, go along with the program,’ but this is just hurtful. It all seems a little suspect.”
Crisp’s seven seasons with the A’s have been full of injuries, due in large part to his crash-the-wall, dive-for-everything style of defense. Only twice in the first six years did Crisp get to 130 games, and he’s never played more than 136 for Oakland.
“The contract has a pretty aggressive number for him to achieve,” Comte said. “All we are looking for level playing field. If they didn’t want to put in there, they shouldn’t have entered the contract.”
The Giants had a similar situation last year with Marlon Byrd, who came up six at-bats short of qualifying for a contract guarantee. Byrd was basically a rental player, getting in just 39 games with San Francisco, as Comte is quick to point out.
“Did Marlon Byrd play seven years with the Giants?” he asked.
The question now is whether or not Crisp will get a chance to play an eighth with the A’s.