It was December 2004, and in what had become a familiar offseason symptom, the Oakland Athletics were in a state of flux. Tim Hudson had just been shipped off to the Atlanta Braves, a move that had been anticipated by many. But Billy Beane seriously shook the foundation of the organization by sending Mark Mulder off to the St. Louis Cardinals for a package that would be much more intriguing than the one netted from Atlanta. Promising young starter Danny Haren (I refuse to call him Dan) and setup man Kiko Calero headed to Oakland, along with a 19 year old catcher named Daric Barton. He was the true prize of the package, regarded by many as one of the best pure hitters in the minor leagues.
He was moved to 1st base upon arriving in the Athletics organization, figuratively to prevent his position from impeding his development as a hitter. Fast forward to 2007 Barton is called up for a “cup of coffee” in Oakland and dazzles the fans with a 1.067 OPS over his first 18 games in the majors. But in 2008 the bloom fell off the rose as Barton struggled mightily in 140 games, posting a paltry .647 OPS. At that point the fans began to question whether the top prospect obtained for an ace was going to be nothing more than a AAAA player. He improved markedly in 2009 over a much smaller sample size, boosting his OPS by over 100 points. Then came 2010, the year he truly turned the corner, working a league leading 110 walks and posting an impressive 5.1 WAR. I always found it remarkable that that his WAR was higher than Phillies uber slugger Ryan Howard, was Barton really a more desirable 1B than Howard? It’s hard to imagine, but the numbers were there. Then once again, in 2011 Barton lost his way, in 67 games before being sent to Sacramento Barton didn’t manage to hit a single homerun, not one. The Daric Barton we all began to fall in love with again in 2010 was apparently either long gone, or was a figment of our collective imagination. It was later revealed that he had a severe shoulder injury requiring surgery, which may have sapped any power he had. He entered this season looking for a clean bill of health, hoping for a fresh start, and the ability to pick up where 2010 left off, but so far that hasn’t happened.
If you just look at the Twitter timeline of any die hard Athletics fan, you’ll see one of two things. You’ll either see that person ripping into Barton with a fiery passion, calling for his banishment back to the minors. You will see them constantly harping on the fact that Barton appears at times to come to the plate seeking walks, hoping to work the count and show off his eye rather than get a pitch to hit and let it rip. They believe that Daric Barton’s spot in the batting order is where all potential A’s rallies go to die, usually with a called strike 3.
Or, you’ll see them praising his plate discipline, his ability to work counts, and his oftentimes superior defensive skills. The belief that a well earned walk is every bit as valuable as a base hit fuels that support. There is no doubt that when right Barton has the talent to hit the ball, and hit it hard, he simply picks his spots. He just needs to be in the lineup every day so he can hone his eye and work that OBP back up around .400. Also, his defense will save as many runs as a common 1B’s bat would contribute. Barton is simply a new age ballplayer.
There is merit to both sides of the argument, but it is difficult for A’s fans to wrap their heads around what it is we have in Barton. It appears the A’s have little faith in his ability to return to his 2010 form, as evidenced by the amount of playing time Kila Ka’aihue has been getting recently. The A’s seem to be dealing with the exact same love/hate relationship the entire fanbase has dealt with regarding Barton over the years. They don’t know what to think, but like the angel and the devil on your shoulders, both sides of A’s fans will continue to voice their opinions on what the A’s should be doing with the most polarizing 1st baseman Oakland has ever seen.