The first shot has been fired in the Oakland Athletics battle with the other four teams in the AL West. In their quest to defend their division title for a third straight year, the A’s have pulled out all the stops and brought in veteran utility man Nick Punto on a one year contract worth $2.75 million with a convoluted vesting option for a second year, more on that shortly.
Punto spent the last year and a month with the Los Angeles Dodgers after being included in the mega-deal that netted them Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett. He is the quintessential role player, a guy who “knows how to play the game” as they say. He won’t make a profound impact on the team with what he does on the field, but his presence will likely play a big role in the success of a number of other players on the team.
The key to the A’s success recently has been the versatility with which the roster has been constructed. Punto exemplifies that approach. He played 49 games at shortstop in 2013, 35 at third base, and 33 at second base, so he’ll be able to spell both Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie when needed.
Punto hit .255/.328/.327 with a couple home runs in 335 plate appearances, but his importance can’t be measured by the numbers. The oft injured Hanley Ramirez can’t be replaced, but Punto gave the Dodgers a capable backup while he was on the shelf. He will do the same for the Athletics in all likelihood.
The impulse is to assume that the signing of Punto is some sort of precursor to a bigger deal, such as the rumored Jed Lowrie to the St. Louis Cardinals trade. I highly doubt that deal is going to happen unless the A’s are absolutely blindsided by an incredible package. Punto will fill small gaps here and there, and will do just fine at that. He’ll be in Oakland for 2014, and perhaps 2015 if his option vests. That option has clauses that would void the vesting portion if he spends more than 30 days on the DL with injuries to specific body parts. The option would become a team decision at that point. It has to be one of the more unconventional clauses I’ve seen.
I give the move my stamp of approval, so long as it’s just the first step in retooling the Athletics to be more successful in 2014.