Creating a major league outfield has never been an easy thing to do. You have to weigh a player’s defensive range and arm strength with offensive production. When those options have been weighed thoroughly you finally look at the cost. Baseball stereotypes in this situation make things expensive (i.e. power hitting corner outfielders [Right and left field] and speedy center fielders cost more). So how do you completely reconstruct a major league outfield in just one offseason and on a budget? Simple. Look to A’s GM Billy Beane and his 2012 Oakland Athletics outfield.
The first place we’ll look is in the rear view mirror to see how and why GM Billy Beane and the A’s got to this point. The 2011 outfield saw Conor Jackson, Ryan Sweeney, David DeJesus, Coco Crisp, and Josh Willingham get the bulk of the playing time. On paper that 2011 outfield, name-wise, carried more weight than did the outfield this year at the beginning of the season. While Willingham put up great numbers and Crisp was consistent the other three struggled. This is one of the main reasons the A’s played so poorly last season. The outfield was seen to be the strong point with Willingham in left, Crisp in center, and DeJesus in right. However, DeJesus was in a season long slump and Sweeney/Jackson did not fare well when they saw their playing time in the seven through nine positions. The numbers prove this. All 5 combined when playing outfield positions: 473 games, 30 home runs, 208 RBI, and 56 SB (46 of these coming via Crisp). The numbers though dismal is not as bad as the price. Altogether their contracts added up to $22.35 million. For a team whose payroll was just above $67 million and was going to lower significantly the next season that is a major portion.
The lack of numbers along with the cost of the contracts saw this group to dismantle. Willingham, Crisp, and DeJesus became free agents, Jackson was traded at the end of August, and Sweeney was traded in the offseason. This led to five open roster spots for the outfield. Beane had almost $23 million to spend. What did he do with it?
Jonny Gomes, Coco Crisp, and Yoenis Céspedes signed via free agency (Gomes for one year, Crisp for two years, and Céspedes for four years). They then acquired Josh Reddick and Seth Smith through trades with the Red Sox and Rockies, respectively. Presto, a major league outfield reconstructed in one offseason. The combined salaries this year of these five is $16.4 million. Their numbers through 383 combined games: 67 home runs, 201 RBI, and 54 SB (Crisp only has 30 of the stolen bases to this point therefore showing this group can run more than the previous). Double the home runs, almost as many runs batted in, and nearly as many stolen bases through fewer games. This group is on track to obliterate the 2011 group and for nearly $6 million less.
GM Billy Beane took a lot of flak for his moves this offseason. Trading away two young starting pitchers, the closer, two outfielders, etc. can do that. What he created instead though, will have a long lasting effect on how the A’s play the next couple seasons. Céspedes is under contract for another three years. Reddick and Smith are still in their arbitration years meaning they are under contract. Crisp will be in Oakland for another year, presumably to be a stopgap for prospect Michael Choice. Gomes has said he wants to return. This outfield has been the backbone to the A’s run this year and should continue to do so. Less money, better numbers. Moneyball is back? It never left Oakland. Beane has done it again.