In the ever-changing landscape that is the Oakland A's roster, the yearly turnover is usually back-dropped by a nuanced approach to each season that attempts to guide the club to the playoffs. But amidst that change, there has been one veteran among a group of youngsters that's found a way to stick around. And Coco Crisp will be sticking around for at least two years longer than originally thought after inking a two-year extension Friday making him an Athletic through 2016.
A sparkplug atop the A's lineup and a rangy center-fielder, Crisp will get $11 million for 2015 and 2016, with a $13 million vesting option for 2017.
Crisp, often believed to be a trade candidate considering A's GM Billy Beane's habit of dealing away veterans at their peak value for prospects, has become the exception to the rule. Coming off a career season with a 119 OPS+ thanks to 22 home runs, Crisp's value to the club has remained clear during his four-year tenure in Oakland, highlighted by back-to-back division titles under manager Bob Melvin.
"It was just something that we had talked about and it just kind of progressed into something that might turn into a contract before spring training," Crisp said Friday. "Whether it happened after the season or before, this was the place I want to be. So I'm happy with coming back and for more than just this year."
Melvin often describes Crisp as one of the team's toughest outs with a knack for hitting quality pitching. Crisp's extension signified what the A's have been looking for this offseason: players with the ability to put the ball in play and avoid the strikeout.
The boom-or-bust Athletics teams of late have lived off the long ball while risking the worst possible outcome of the strikeout. With home runs sometimes hard to come by in the spacious confines of O.Co Coliseum, the A's have increasingly been putting a premium on speed and on the ability to put the ball in play. Hence the deals to move players with power potential (but a lot of swing-and-miss to their games) such as Chris Carter and Michael Choice.
Crisp's extension, along with the acquisition of speedster Craig Gentry (for Choice in an off-season trade with the Rangers), fall inline with the thinking that speed plays everywhere - whereas power plays in some parks and not others. O.Co was the sixth-toughest ballpark to hit a home run in last season.
Jim Johnson, the A's new closer by way of a trade with the Orioles, understands the challenge of facing Crisp and a unique quality he brings to the team's lineup.
"He's a pain in the ass," Johnson quipped. "He's the kind of guy where you think you have a plan and your plan goes to crap because he's fouling off these pitches or he forces you into a count or situation, he's tough. Not only that, he's tough on the bases. So now you got to pay enough attention to him but you still have make a good pitch."
The move to sign Crisp long-term also makes sense from an organization-perspective. The A's have struggled to develop outfielders in recent years. Choice represented Oakland's first highly ranked outfield prospect in several years. However, with Yoenis Cespedes ensconced in left and Josh Reddick providing Gold Glove defense in right, Choice was slotted to be a fourth outfielder with the A's this year. Choice wasn't the type of player that fit into a part-time role, whereas Gentry has already served as a back-up during his career with the Rangers.
The A's will have a front-row seat to Choice's development as an every-day player for the Rangers in their bandbox of ballpark. Gentry's presence as a true centerfielder off of the bench will allow the A's to rest or DH Crisp at various points in the season, with the goal of the A's maximizing their investment in Crisp, who has had a history of leg injuries.
Gentry wasn't the only centerfielder with speed Oakland acquired in the offseason. The A's sent left-handed reliever Jerry Blevins to the Washington Nationals for 24-year-old prospect Billy Burns, the Nats' reigning minor leaguer of the year. Burns, a switch-hitter like Crisp, hit .325/.434/.360 last year and converted 125 of 142 (88 percent) of his stolen bases in his three minor league seasons.
As it currently stands, Burns could be ready for the Show even before Crisp's two guaranteed seasons are up, allowing the A's the flexibility to move one of the three speedy outfielders should a different need arise.
Until then, the A's will continue to rely on Crisp's bat atop the lineup and coverage of one of baseball's biggest outfields. As the elder statesmen of the otherwise youth-filled roster, Crisp will continue to provide leadership that has been instrumental during the A's two-straight playoff runs.
"Coco's our leader, emotionally and everything just the way he plays - the way he brings energy to this team," catcher Stephen Vogt said on Friday. "So excited for him to see his new deal. Great for him and his family and he deserves every bit of that. It's been a pleasure to play with him already and I look forward to playing with him even more."