Brandon Moss was promoted from Triple-A Sacramento Wednesday to replace Kila Ka'aihue, who was designated for assignment by the A's. Moss had been the River Cats' most consistent hitter throughout the first two-plus months of season with a slash line of .286/.371/.582 with 15 home runs in 51 games. He got the call to Oakland with the expectation that he will play primarily at first base despite only playing 13 games at the position, with the other 37 coming in the outfield or at designated hitter.
With the Sacramento playing a series in Tacoma, Wash. Tuesday, Moss said his promotion came as a complete surprise.
"(Manager) Darren Bush came to the door of my room and I thought he was the pizza guy," he joked with reporters before the game.
"He wasn't the pizza guy. I said ‘what are you doing?' He said, ‘You're leaving tomorrow.' I said, ‘Yeah, we all are.'"
He said the pizza delivery guy came to his door five minutes later.
"It was a great 10 minutes in my life right there," Moss said.
The right side of the diamond is not completely foreign to the former Red Sox and Pirate. Moss was originally drafted as a second baseman before moving to the outfield in 2003, his first full season as a pro.
In his debut with the A's in Wednesday's 2-0 win over Texas, Moss' defense was thrown into the spotlight. Third baseman Brandon Inge gave him two tough throws to deal with – one that bounced well in front of the base which had to be scooped and another Moss had to stretch for and barely toe the bag. But he made both plays. He finished the night 0-for-3 at the plate before Adam Rosales took over in the ninth as a defensive replacement.
"I was drafted as an infielder, I was drafted as a second baseman. It's going to be different, because every throw is going to do something different," Moss said after the game.
"You just try to lead the ball when it's on its way – if it's got side-spin or backspin on it – you just try to read it accordingly."
Although Moss had been having a good year at the plate with Sacramento, his name was hardly expected when club announced it had DFA'd Ka'aihue. Daric Barton and Chris Carter were both with Triple-A Sacramento at the time of the move. Both are natural first basemen.
Moss had an option in his contract that allowed him to opt out on June 15 if he wasn't in the major leagues, a factor which weighed heavily into the decision, manager Bob Melvin said before the game.
"Based on the fact that he was doing what he was doing and the lack of production we had here, it was the right thing to get him here," Melvin said. "In doing that, it was very difficult to let Kila go. Sometimes you have to make tough moves and that was one of them."
Oakland originally broke camp with Brandon Allen and Ka'aihue at first base. Barton was returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to be sidelined for a large part of 2011 and slowed him during spring training. He came back to the A's on April 9, forcing the club to DFA Allen. Barton struggled to find a groove while getting inconsistent at-bats, hitting just .128/.325/.283 in 126 plate appearances. He was optioned to Sacramento on June 2.
Chris Carter remains a curious case. Once regarded as the best power-hitting prospect in the organization, he may have fallen out of favor with the A's after getting just six hits (all singles) in 44 at-bats in 2011 in the majors. Carter, a notorious slow starter, is having a subpar year by his standards with Triple-A Sacramento, hitting .258/.337/.474 (811 OPS) with 10 home runs.
Given Moss' hot bat, experience at the major league level (249 games) and approaching option, the A's deemed him the best alternative to the status quo at first base.
"For them to reward me and give you an opportunity, that's all you can ask for. There are people all the time that had a good year in the minor leagues that don't get an opportunity," Moss said.
Moss was originally drafted by Boston in the eighth round of the 2002 draft and played well before moving to Pittsburgh as apart of the Manny Ramirez and Jason Bay swap at the trading deadline in 2008. In 49 games with the Red Sox, he hit .291/.348/.456 and appeared to be a major league outfielder on the rise.
But he was stuck with the Pirates organization that combined to lose 299 games in his three-plus seasons there, where his numbers dropped to .228/.295/.373 with 13 homers in 195 games. Moss went on to Philadelphia last season. He spent the majority of the year in Triple-A, but he did appear in five games with the Phillies, although he did not register a hit.
Melvin said Moss' defense in his team's win Wednesday was better than he expected.
"Usually outfielders are more apt to catch balls in the air," he said. "But he made those scoops and really stayed on the bag for that other one. For a first outing, it was impressive for a guy that's been an outfielder for his whole career."
Luckily for Moss, being a natural outfielder is advantageous in a place like Oakland, given all the foul territory.
"Holy cow. That's all I could think about. Every time a foul ball was hit, all I could do was say ‘I have to run after all of these.' It's a lot of foul territory. So we'll see how that goes," he said after the game.
The A's situation at first base is far from solved, however. Moss will have to earn his keep with his bat while not becoming a defensive liability. His history in the big leagues should definitely help, but should he produce at the same level of the first basemen before him, the A's could be looking at making yet another difficult decision at some point this summer.