Entering baseball’s off-season, the Oakland A’s will have to make some interesting choices in the outfield. While Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp have the three starting spots locked up, Oakland will have to decide which other outfielders they want on the active roster to begin 2013.
Deciding whether or not to re-sign Jonny Gomes will be a key piece to the outfield puzzle.
Gomes will serve as an interesting test case to see how much a club known for paying for quantifiable performance is willing to shell out for the intangibles that spurred the team to 94 wins in 2012.
At the age of 31, Gomes turned in arguably his best season since his rookie year in 2005. In only 279 at-bats, he hit 18 home runs, while batting .262. His on-base-percentage of .377 was not only a career high, but the best mark posted by any player on the Oakland roster.
However, Gomes’ overall numbers do not paint the complete picture of his role at the plate. As the season wore on, manager Bob Melvin began platooning Gomes and fellow outfielder Seth Smith at designated hitter. Smith got the start against right-handed pitchers, and Gomes faced off against lefties.
The formula was remarkably effective, with Gomes hitting .299 against southpaws and getting on base at the remarkable clip of .413.
These numbers might not sound terribly impressive to some, but for an A’s team that struggled to hit for average all year, Gomes was a more than serviceable option in the lineup.
Despite this solid production, the most powerful reason to bring Gomes back to Oakland likely has nothing to do with his ability to hit lefties, and everything to do with his leadership.
In his first season with the team, Gomes seemed to take charge of the clubhouse. Every time the A’s hit a walk-off or won a big game, Gomes was the player leading the charge to home plate or the mound. When he was not in the lineup, he remained as vocal and enthusiastic as ever, cheering on his teammates.
He will not earn any awards for his on-field play from 2012, but Gomes did win the Dave Stewart Community Service Award from his team for his charitable work, and was even presented with a “Good Guy” award by the local chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America for cooperation with the media.
When it comes to all-around popularity, the rise of Gomes was meteoric, but that might not be enough to keep him with the club in 2013.
At the end of the day, the front office will decide whether or not to re-sign the right-handed hitter based on his ability to help them win games. His leadership skills will play a role in that, but so too will his potential contributions at the plate.
It seems unlikely that Gomes will receive an offer from another team that the A’s would be unable to match, unless a big-market club decides that they desperately need a situational right-handed hitter. That is not going to happen, so Gomes should be affordable for a small market team such as Oakland.
However, being able to match an offer and being willing to match it are two completely different issues.
As noted above, the A’s are set in the outfield at the starting positions. Unless the team decides to trade away Crisp before the final year of his contract, there are no openings for a starting outfielder. That leaves Gomes either in a utility role or vying for the DH spot once again. Based on the fact that Melvin was almost completely unwilling to use him against right handed pitchers at the end of the season and in the playoffs, full-time DH duty is unlikely for Gomes.
Complicating the matter further is the fact that Oakland has two outfielders at the top of its farm system in Michael Choice and Grant Green. Both have a chance to reach the majors in 2013, following solid performances in Triple-A. Additionally, as both were first round draft picks, the A’s are invested much more heavily in the prospects than in Gomes.
Of course, Gomes is not the only player currently in the big leagues that the A’s must decide to re-sign or release. Brandon McCarthy could draw a relatively hefty payday, and the contract options on Grant Balfour and Stephen Drew are very expensive. Each one of them would stand to fill a more significant on-the-field role than Gomes in 2013. If Oakland decides to allocate more of its limited budget to the other veteran free agents, there might not be enough left over to bring back Gomes.
On the surface of things, it would seem to make sense for the A’s to bring Jonny Gomes back to Oakland for a second season, especially if they can do so for anything close to the million dollar salary that they paid him this year. He was a clubhouse leader, a fan favorite and a valuable situational hitter.
However, things are never quite as simple as they sound, especially for a ball club with no room for financial mistakes. The A’s would certainly like to have Gomes back, but a lot more will go into the decision to retain him than just the salary he wants.
Can Oakland afford to once again pay Gomes to serve as a part-time hitter with the contracts of other key players expiring?
Can the A’s afford not to pay him to act as a full-time leader on a young team that thrived off of his example?
These are tough questions, and finding the right answer will play a role in Oakland’s ability to make a playoff push next season.