Crisp, Reddick to anchor A's outfield
Versatile newcomer Zobrist provides depth at all three spots
This is the fourth of a seven-part Around the Horn series that features a position-by-position look at the A's projected starters and backup options heading into the 2015 season. Up next: Outfielders.
Amid the non-stop flurry of wheeling and dealing done by Billy Beane this offseason, the A's general manager opted to keep his outfield largely intact.
In fact, center fielder Coco Crisp and right fielder Josh Reddick represent the only two returning everyday players on a roster that was turned upside down. Even two of their left-field counterparts are familiar faces: Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry.
Fuld and Gentry are expected to split time at the position, with newcomer Ben Zobrist, who has experience in all three outfield spots, likely to start there on occasion when he's not at second base. All three are excellent defenders and can easily cover the Coliseum's expansive outfield.
Moreover, all three have experience playing all three outfield positions, a clear luxury made even more so when considering Crisp's injury-prone past. Reddick, too, was limited to 109 games last year because of a recurring knee injury.
Much was expected of Reddick in 2014, after he underperformed the year before in part because of a lingering wrist issue that required offseason surgery. But by the time he landed on the disabled list in June, he was hitting just .214, and he returned for just four games before hitting the DL again.
Reddick, though, was back for good on July 22 and was one of the club's best hitters in the second half, going 10-for-31 in those final July days before batting .271 in August and .324 in September. His walk rate dropped to its lowest level since he arrived in Oakland, but so did his strikeout rate. Rather, he brought an aggressive approach to the plate and, in turn, made contact more consistently.
All the while, he sported his usual excellent defense, which kept him in the lineup through the early rough patches. That will likely hold true again in 2015, should Reddick keep up his streaky ways, but the A's have always put much emphasis on a player's second half, and if Reddick can continue what he started in the final months of 2014, he should again be counted on as a quality player on both sides of the ball.
Crisp, meanwhile, endured an even more frustrating 2014. The veteran, coming off a career year, suffered a neck strain in early May while making an outstanding catch against the Coliseum's center-field wall, and effects from the crash lingered throughout the entirety of the season. In turn, his performance worsened.
Crisp finished with a .246 average -- lowest among his 11 seasons with at least 50 games played -- and a .699 OPS. He was visibly not himself on most days but is expected to bounce back to normal form following several months' rest.
Crisp's health issues, combined with those of Gentry, forced the A's to give up four years of Tommy Milone to reacquire Fuld midseason last year. Fuld played in 53 of the club's final 55 games, hitting .210/.275/.312 while providing a handful of spectacular plays in the outfield that highlighted his all-out style of play.
Defense is also what makes Gentry so valuable. Last season wasn't his most memorable, after fluke injuries -- a hand break and a concussion -- limited him to 94 games, but he more than showed his worth in the field when healthy.
Rule 5 Draft selection Mark Canha will also be closely watched in Spring Training as a possible outfield candidate, particularly since he must remain on the A's active roster all season or be offered back to the Marlins. He hit .303/.384/.505 with 20 home runs and 82 RBIs for Triple-A New Orleans last year, splitting his time between left field and the corner-infield positions.