A quick scan of the A’s roster will tell you they have three starting center fielders.
They have the one who began the season last year as the regular, San Fuld, who was hitting .315 the first couple of weeks in a platoon with Craig Gentry before a 2-for-29 skid trimmed that average to .229 and dropped him out of the mix.
They have the one who ended the season as the regular, Billy Burns, who came up on the day Fuld reached .229, May 2, and started in center for 118 of the team’s final 138 games. He became the reliable leadoff hitter the club needed, hitting .294 in his first full season with his propensity to swing at the first pitch he saw and with the ability to beat out grounders not hit right at infielders.
And they have the one who was the center fielder for the vast bulk of the time between mid-2010 to 2014, Coco Crisp, who was a non-factor for the most part last year due to injuries to his right elbow, wrist and neck. He only played in 44 games, and he feels his .175 average was due in part to coming back too soon.
The question now is how it all shakes out in 2016, where the A’s, strapped for outfielders a year ago, have a glut.
The plan going in is that Burns is the regular but will get more rest, that Crisp could get a couple of starts a week and that Fuld will be hard-pressed to make the roster because of the aforementioned glut.
But this is Oakland, and nothing is written in stone or even mud. Burns isn’t guaranteed anything beyond nominal starter status, and he knows it. If he doesn’t hit, the A’s will look for someone who can.
“It’s different coming in now because of what happened last year,’’ Burns said. “But I am trying to take this year like last year, where I’m competing like I have to win a job. I think that’s the best way to approach it.’’
Manager Bob Melvin is well aware that a first full six-month season wore at Burns, his legs so beaten up he stole just one base in his last 23 games over the final six weeks of the season after having 25 steals in his first four months.
“He was pretty beaten up,’’ the manager said. “Getting Coco in there once or twice a week or whatever would help keep Billy healthy.’’
At this time a year ago, Melvin made the decision to move Crisp from center to left. And while Crisp took the move professionally, it never panned about because of injuries. Now the A’s have added Khris Davis to be the everyday left fielder, so center field becomes a clearer path to playing time for Crisp than left, although he will play both in addition to getting occasional DH duty.
“I’m ready to do whatever is best for the team,’’ Crisp says of his unsettled position this spring. “Hopefully they’ll view me as one of the guys who has to be in the lineup, but I’ll do what’s needed.’’
Crisp, 36, was the catalyst to three consecutive post-season appearances for Oakland, and, as Melvin is fond of saying “when Coco plays well, we play well.’’ Crisp is healthy now, has already made back-to-back starts in the first week of the Cactus League, something he wasn’t able to do in his final 19 games over the final six weeks of the 2015 season.
“There’s quite a bit of difference, based on what we saw the second half,’’ Melvin said. “He wasn’t really even getting swings where he could drive the ball. His batting practices are significantly different. Just watch him move in the field. He had a really good jump on a ball in center field coming in on it. He looks a lot closer to the player we saw physically we saw in years past than last year.’’
Melvin says that Crisp’s willingness to go along with the some-center, some-left, some-DH plan is taking pressure off Crisp, and off the manager, who wants a healthy Crisp in the lineup, and is willing to rest him as much as necessary to get that.
“To be able to play some left, some center, and obviously he has a propensity to DH too, which guys who have been everyday players have a tough time with,’’ Melvin said. “I think it’s key for him to be able to do it. He was all for it from Day 1.’’
That seems to leave Fuld as the man on the bubble. The club is committed to four outfielders – Josh Reddick, Burns, Crisp and Davis, and unlike past year, may not be able to take a fifth. The A’s could conceivably make room for Fuld, who started Wednesday’s game against the White Sox in center, by going with just five infielders, but that would almost certainly come at the expense of a job for Eric Sogard, who stands to be the backup shortstop, or Mark Canha, who can play left, right or first and who is coming off a big rookie year.
Fuld says “all I can do is go out and play’’ this spring in his bid for a job, and he’s more than done that. Wednesday he had three hits against the White Sox and Friday he came back with a homer, a triple and four RBIs against the Reds. Coming into this week he has a .313 average to go along with a .450 on-base percentage, numbers sure to get and hold the A’s interest.
Melvin really would like to keep the versatile defender, saying “we really value Sam here. He’s plus-plus at all three positions.’’ And Fuld wants to keep playing with the A’s.
“It’s not like I haven’t been through this before,’’ Fuld said. “It’s a little bit of blow when they go out and get someone who could take away playing time and job security. I just have to go out and play.’’
–The A’s added right-handed pitcher Andrew Triggs, claiming the reliever off waivers from the Orioles Sunday. Triggs, who had a 1.03 ERA at Double-A last year, gets the roster spot vacated by Jarrod Parker (fractured elbow) going on the disabled list. As the A’s already have a full schedule for pitchers in Cactus League games, he likely starts out in the minor league camp when he arrives, probably Wednesday with the A’s have a day off Tuesday.
–The first round of roster trims came down Sunday. Infielders Renato Nunez and Rangel Ravelo were optioned to Triple-A Nashville and right-handed starter Raul Alcantara was optioned to Double-A Midland. Lefty relievers Dillon Overton and Daniel Coulombe, right-handers Ryan Doolittle, Chris Smith and Taylor Thompson, catcher Beau Taylor and infielders Richie Martin and Josh Rodriguez were reassigned to the minor league camp. That leaves the A’s with 51 players in camp, including 23 pitchers, six catchers, 14 infielders and eight outfielders.
–Oakland was down 3-0 in the ninth inning Sunday against the Cubs when the A’s rose up to beat up on closer Hector Rondon for three runs, including RBI hits from Franklin Barreto and Tyler Ladendorf and a game-tying sacrifice fly from Matt Olson. Oakland and Chicago settled for a 3-3 tie.
–Rickey Henderson arrived in camp Sunday. He’s scheduled to be with the club for eight days as a base-running, outfield and motivational coach.
–The As had their first full house of the spring at Hohokam Stadium Sunday against the Cubs, 10,040, and are expecting another sellout Monday night against the Giants.
–Starter Jesse Hahn said after his first start he was too tight going in. This time around he said he was too loose, describing his warmup before giving up two runs in the first as “lazy.’’ “I felt good, but I think I had lazy routine today. I did a bad job of that. I did a good job of settling down, but I need to make adjustments.’’