In 2012, Oakland A's manager Bob Melvin became very fond of platooning players at various positions last year, sometime because of necessity when dealing with injuries and sometimes in order to optimize matchups by using depth of his roster. It will be more of the same in 2013, but new challenges lay ahead as players have come and gone.
Insert Chris Young, the talented centerfielder acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in October. He will naturally take the place of Jonny Gomes, who joined the Boston Red Sox as a free agent by signing a two-year, $10 million deal. That was clearly more than Oakland was willing to pay for a part-time player with defensive limitations. Instead, The A's went with Young, who could be due more than $19 million over the next two seasons if his team option is picked up for 2014. But unlike Gomes, Young's value lies in his defense and expected versatility.
"He can beat you with his glove, he can beat you with power, he can beat you with speed," Melvin said at the A's 2013 FanFest. "This is a premier player. Defensively, we feel like we have two of the best centerfielders [along with Coco Crisp] in all of baseball."
But at the price of $8.5 million for this year, Young becomes the A's most expensive player, and it's likely he will be the team's fourth outfielder when the team breaks camp, barring injury.
Injuries will be the key, however, because when Crisp was out of the lineup last year, it was asking a lot of Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick to play center in their first full big league seasons. Both Crisp and Cespedes missed some time with nagging injuries, and although they all proved capable, attrition took its toll as the season wore on. Reddick hit just .215/.256/.391 in the second half of the season while Cespedes admitted he was running on fumes late in the year.
"There's 1,800 at-bats for your outfield spots, and if you're looking at four guys, that's 400-plus for all those guys," Melvin said. "And if you add the DH spot, there's another 600-700 plate appearances there. You include Seth Smith with that."
Being a natural centerfielder with good athleticism, Young figures to play every outfield position at various points of the year. Being able to spell the incumbent players by allowing them a day off or a DH day is a luxury the team didn't have last year with Gomes or Smith as the lone bench options.
"I'll have to get used to [playing all over the outfield] for sure," Young said. "The trajectory of the ball is a little different and it takes some getting used to. It's not easy.
"All three outfield positions are equally as difficult. But I don't think it's something that I can't accomplish. I'm pretty comfortable in my ability. I feel like I can make the necessary adjustments."
Young brings with him a career 755 OPS and a 21 stolen base average over 162 games. But last year he struggled with injuries to both his shoulder and his quad, limiting him to just 101 games after playing in 156 games each of the previous two seasons.
But what was encouraging in his limited action was his career-high 22 percent line-drive rate. On the downside, Young's career home and away splits are pretty slanted toward his former home park – the hitting haven of Chase Field. He has a career .224 average and .311 on-base clip away from Phoenix in his seven big league seasons.
What he lacks for in those areas, he makes up for with his glove and his power. Surprisingly, his power numbers didn't drop off on the road as much as would normally be expected. He actually slugged 65 points higher on the road in 2012 while hitting nine home runs compared to just five at Chase Field. He has also excelled off the bench, with an 1151 OPS in 50 plate appearances in his career.
Young's career lefty-righty splits could be an indication of how he will be used this season by the A's. He's just a .228/.299/.419 hitter against right-handers and a .271/.371/.489 hitter against lefties, making it likely he will see his majority of starts over Reddick when the A's go against left-handed starters.
A key for Young will be getting off to a good start. Changing leagues means he will be facing a number of pitchers he hasn't seen, while also transitioning from being an everyday player. It's not an ideal situation for anyone, but at least for Young, he will be working with a manager he is very comfortable with after playing for Melvin in Arizona for more than three seasons, including 2007, when he hit a career-high 32 home runs and stole 27 bases.
"Being able to play with Bo-Mel definitely prepares me for what's going to happen over here," Young said. "He's going to be honest with you. He's not going to say one thing to your face and then behind your back say something else.
"He's a pretty straightforward individual. When you're coming over to a situation like that, you're going to be extremely comfortable. He's going to tell you what to be prepared for. As a player, you have to expect that and appreciate that."