A Tale of Two Oakland A’s First Basemen
Looking back at the 2012 season, there is little doubt that Yoenis Cespedes was the offensive leader of the Oakland A’s. However, during any given month, a different member of the team could be found stepping up to play at an All-Star level.
Over the last month of the season, that player was Brandon Moss.
Moss has had an intriguing career trajectory, to say the least. Drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the eighth round of the 2002 draft, he quickly became a top minor league prospect. In very limited action with Boston, he showed the world enough to become the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ chief compensation from the Red Sox in the three team deal that sent Jason Bay to Boston and Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Once with Pittsburgh, however, Moss’s production dropped to ridiculously low levels. In three seasons with the Pirates, he never batted higher than .236 and hit as low as .154. Without a lot of power or the ability to get on base, Moss was nothing less than a bust.
He signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, and spent most of the season in the minors, posting solid stats, but not numbers good enough to earn him more than six pinch hitting at bats in Philly (in which he went 0-6).
Cut loose again after 2011, Moss signed with Oakland on December 1 of last year. He did not project to be a strong contender to play for the A’s much during 2012, and seemed destined for a career in Triple-A. Eventually, however, Moss got his chance. The A’s tried everybody else at first base – Brandon Allen, Daric Barton and Kila Ka’aihue all got chances to claim the starting job before Moss got his first opportunity on June 6.
Given a shot to claim the starting role, Moss did not exactly impress immediately, and was batting a paltry .224 at the end of June. But he started to piece things together in July and August, getting gradually better each month. In September, it all clicked. He hit .369 over his final 26 games of the season, and reached base at a clip of .433 all while displaying good pop in his bat.
When the dust settled, Moss finally seemed to have a promising future within his grasp, and the A’s had found an answer at one of the positions that has long been a sore spot for the organization.
Moss is now arbitration eligible for the first time in his career, and it seems absurd to imagine that Oakland will do anything other than offer him a contract, no matter how much extra his good season earned him.
But if Moss is a great tale of redemption, another A’s first baseman eligible for arbitration is still seeking to remove the bust label. Daric Barton, a first round pick in 2003, has begun his career much like Moss. When the Billy Beane shipped Mark Mulder to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2004, Barton and Dan Haren were supposed to be the key pieces that Oakland got in return.
For the better part of five years, Barton tantalized the A’s with his potential. As recently as 2008, he was considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball. He could draw walks like nobody else, with a minor league career OBP of .407. Yet every time he got a chance in the majors, he failed to hit and struggled with injuries.
Last season the first base job should have belonged to Barton. He should have claimed it and finally vindicated himself by helping the A’s make the playoffs. Instead, he slumped and watched Brandon Moss come out of nowhere to claim his spot on the field.
There is almost zero chance that Oakland offers Barton a contract in arbitration. He should soon be free to find a new home.
Hopefully Barton took notes while watching Moss. That story is one to which he should aspire. Perhaps a change of scenery will enable him to also capitalize upon his potential and become a key player on a playoff team.
Moss redeemed himself in Oakland and ousted Barton, but in an ironic twist, that just might give Barton the chance to write his own tale of redemption.