The Oakland A’s outfield seems to be set for now. The team has four talented starters in Yoenis Cespedes, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Chris Young. Crisp may find his way onto the trade block at some point during the off-season, but if he does not, the A’s are set at to have three good starters and a great backup no matter how the playing time shakes out.
But there is a fifth outfielder on the Oakland roster who is something of a forgotten man these days. Seth Smith turned in a nice year with the A’s last season as a replacement outfielder and part of the two-man designated hitter platoon. His batting average of .240 was far from stellar, but he hit 14 home runs and had an OBP of .333, both very respectable numbers. Smith did not play much in the outfield, but when he did, his defensive play was always sturdy – nothing spectacular, but extremely reliable.
All of that sounds good, and the A’s would undoubtedly love to have a player of Smith’s caliber serving as a fifth outfielder. However, Smith is eligible for arbitration this offseason and should earn several million dollars. That is a steep price for the A’s to pay a fifth outfielder. Consider that last year the team splurged a bit to give Jonny Gomes $1 million to be a fifth outfielder. Paying three times that or more for Smith would be a major price tag.
Oakland is therefore left with a choice – fork out the cash to keep Smith or trade him.
The decision is difficult, but obvious. Smith should be traded. The A’s do not need a fifth outfielder of Smith’s caliber. Sure, they would like to have one, but in reality, Collin Cowgill can fill in that role very well until a player such as Grant Green or Michael Choice is ready for the majors. Even better would be the prospect of bringing back Gomes, although he now appears to be drawing interest from other clubs in free agency.
The A’s have been as fast and loose with their money this offseason as they have been in quite some time, but unless things have taken a dramatic shift for the better, several million dollars is still a more significant investment for Oakland than almost any other team. Is Smith really the guy to invest in? Could the money he is owed not be better spent to help their search for a starting shortstop or pitcher?
Unfortunately for the A’s, there are quite a few good options at outfielder in the free agent market, and teams looking for a trade are probably not going to think of Seth Smith first and foremost. However, he could be a valuable addition either as a starter to a club with a weak outfield or as a primary backup to a contender with no depth.
Smith’s numbers with the A’s were not spectacular, but what hitter ever posts amazing numbers in the cavernous Coliseum? In his first five seasons with the Colorado Rockies, he hit .275 with an OBP of .348 and swatted 47 homers. Granted every hitter seems to post good numbers in Colorado, but if you split the difference between Smith’s numbers with Rockies and A’s, you get an average hitter with above average ability to get on base and nice power to boot.
The A’s might actually get something in return for Smith. Certainly they could not get as much as they would for a guy such as Crisp, but they would lose a lot less.
Right now, Oakland has five outfielders and two first baseman among the best eight hitters on the team. Even with the DH, only five can play regularly, meaning two are backups by default. Smith looks like the weakest hitter of the bunch and he stands to be the most overpaid after arbitration.
There may not be a huge trade market for him, but the A’s could get something in return. If Billy Beane got Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook for Trevor Cahill, he very well might get a single starting caliber player for Smith. The A’s would shed some salary or even better fill a need. Either way, it makes the most sense for the team to deal Smith sometime this off-season.