This deal is one of the most difficult deals to analyze in this offseason because of the context of this deal. Center fielder Coco Crisp is an above-average player who will be paid market value; $14 million over two years to continue playing for the Oakland Athletics. However, Billy Beane has spent the entire offseason trading his established players presumably in order to clear up cap and undergo a total rebuild/youth movement. A $7 million deal to an injury-prone outfielder who is 32-years-old definitely breaks this trend, and that’s what makes this otherwise solid deal somewhat surprising.
One thing to keep in mind is that the A’s didn’t really have many other options at CF. They wanted to keep a guy who was worth 2.2 WAR last season and 3.3 WAR in 2010, and Crisp is still a solid baseball player. His defense slipped last season, but that’s due to the uncertainty of UZR from season to season as opposed to an actual decline in play. Coco has been at least an average hitter in the past two seasons and is still a huge threat on the bases. He swiped 49 bags last season, but it should be noted that his 24% line drive rate was an anomaly. However, that is cancelled out by his .284 BABIP which is depressed compared to his projected BABIP of .300 next season and his .303 career average.
The former Indians star is becoming less and less patient at the plate, but his discipline has been steady for the most part. I don’t expect any drastic changes in value, and I see Crisp as an above-average player if healthy. However, Crisp is a player with a history of injuries who can’t be counted on to play 140 games in a season. The fans on FanGraphs who have submitted their projections believe Crisp is a 3.1 WAR player if given an expected 577 plate appearances in 130 games. That is where his value is at if healthy, but again, I wouldn’t bet on this.
If we use a three year Marcel system, Crisp is about a 2.5 WAR player, and Bill James also has Crisp as a 2.5 WAR player. And really, that’s where Crisp is right now as a ballplayer in terms of overall value; above-average but nothing special. There are far too many people who don’t realize that his average offense is definitely valuable for a center fielder. When combined with very good baserunning and quality D, you get a player who is underrated and gets criticized a little too much by fans.
Crisp is worth about $10-12 million on the open market, and a $7 million deal is what a 1.4 WAR player makes. The Athletics might have been able to sign Crisp for cheaper given the lack of interest, but they were able to get a good deal and signed somebody who surprisingly did not generate nearly enough interest overall.
However, this deal doesn’t make much sense when examining the previous moves the A’s have made this offseason. They traded Trevor Cahill, Craig Breslow, Gio Gonzalez, and Andrew Bailey in what seemed to be a total rebuild. This move contradicts those three trades, because the Athletics went ahead and signed a veteran. The Athletics plan here is probably to add some semblance of ability into the line-up, and they didn’t want to start a JAG in CF as opposed to an undervalued player.
There is something else at play here, or so it seems, when viewing those other moves that makes this deal less puzzling. Coco Crisp is a 2.5 WAR center fielder, and solid CFs aren’t the easiest thing to find; especially when they are under solid contracts. Those three trades were more about acquiring young talent than they were shaving off payroll, and this signing could be one of those moves. In a future trade deadline during the next two seasons of this deal, there has to be at least one team looking to acquire a solid center fielder to push them over the top. Maybe an incumbent went down with an injury or the team is just looking for a hole to fill, but somebody is going to come knocking at the A’s door. And when they do, the A’s will add another prospect or two.
This is just a theory, and there is no way of telling the team’s actual plans. It is difficult to fault a team for finding a market inefficiency and giving an underrated, solid player at a premium possession a below market value contract. My take on this is that they didn’t want to lose too much production and saw a good deal and decided to take it. I bet Beane is thinking about the future and furthering the rebuilding process, and the Athletics should be able to get some more youth out of Coco Crisp when he is worth more than his contract and generates interest at the trade deadline. I see the rationale behind this signing, and it is a solid one when looking at every angle of it.
For more on the A’s check out Swingin’ A’s. Be sure to check out all of Call to the Pen’stransaction breakdowns for the 2011-12 offseason. You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at@FSCalltothePen or like us here on Facebook.