OAKLAND - With their latest trade, the Oakland A’s found insurance for their two most expensive players.
On Friday, the A's acquired former Milwaukee Brewers slugger Khris Davis, 28, who knocked out 49 homers in his first two full seasons in the big leagues, to take over in left field in a trade for two of Oakland’s top-30 prospects in catcher Jacob Nottingham and right-hander Bubba Derby.
Davis figures to fill a void of right-handed power in the middle of the A’s lineup after they slugged .395 in 2015, the second-worst mark in the American League.
Before the trade, the A's left fielder was tentatively scheduled to be Coco Crisp, 36, slated to make $11 million this year. Crisp moved from center to left field last season in attempt to take strain off his body, but he wound-up missing most of the year with injury despite the move. DH Billy Butler, who posted his worst OPS numbers over the last two seasons of his nine-year career, is the A’s priciest position player, making $11.67 million this season after signing a three-year free-agent deal last offseason. Crisp was limited to 44 games in 2015, his fewest since his rookie year in 2002 while Butler was up and down for most of the season. Both figure to lose at-bats with the addition of Davis.
Crisp is continuing to deal with neck issues and enters spring training as one of the team’s biggest question marks with his health status mostly unknown.
“Really don’t know. We have some depth around him to be able to fill in. But he’s worked hard this spring, and I know he’s started hitting a lot sooner than he did in years past,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said of Crisp at the team’s Fan Fest event last month.
Ideally, the A's would like to have Crisp back in left field for his defensive range and veteran bat atop the lineup. If Crisp's neck allows him to play the field, Davis could bump Butler out of the designated hitter spot, forcing Butler to play first base or sit the bench in favor of Mark Canha or newly acquired first baseman Yonder Alonso.
“[Crisp] was a little sporadic with how we could use him, especially toward the end of last year. We really don’t know until the spring. But he feels good at this point,” Melvin said.
Injuries are nothing new for the A’s, who have stocked up plenty of players who can play multiple positions with the addition of Davis to play left field, first base and DH, as well as veteran Jed Lowrie, who can play second, short and third.
“We can rotate a bunch of guys [in left]. We have the depth to be able to move guys around some and Sammy (Fuld) can play out there too, and Coco too. A little bit more depends on how Coco’s feeling and how often he’s able to play. Definitely Canha will get out there as well,” Melvin said.
Butler, who turns 30 in April, tied his career worst on-base clip in 2015, reaching 32.3 percent of the time. He said at FanFest a minor left wrist injury impacted his start to spring training, which played a role in his inconsistent start with his new team. In April, Butler’s OPS was 802, 580 in May, 702 in June, 665 in July and 639 in August.
“It was lingering from the season before. It was just something that was nagging,” Butler said. “I didn’t realize it was there until I started swinging. We don’t usually use those movements until you start picking up a bat again. Because you can do a full workout, but when you go do baseball stuff, it’s a completely different movement than anything you’re doing. It was in there. But it was nothing that was a major issue, it just kind of hindered my ability to take a lot of swings right away.”
In the last 30 games of the year, Butler starting looking more like the hitter the A’s hoped he would become, slashing .330/.364/.509 with six homers and 17 RBI.
Davis is likely to play every day, either in left field to at DH. Oakland is hoping his production translates to the pitcher-friendly O.Co Coliseum after Davis hit .190/.261/.385 away from band box Miller Park, where he put together a 979 OPS last season. Davis has a career OPS of 736 away from Miller Park.
Davis might be the A’s most explosive right-handed bat since Josh Donaldson was traded to Toronto last offseason before becoming the run-away AL MVP, taking 23 of the 30 first-place votes while Mike Trout got the remaining seven. Given the rigors of the 162-game schedule, having more players than available positions could benefit Melvin and the A’s, who were built similarly during their three-straight postseason runs from 2012 to 2014 before last year’s 94-loss season.