With numerous question marks surrounding the Oakland A’s this spring, two areas of the diamond already seem to be in order. Coco Crisp is the everyday center fielder and Josh Reddick is set in right field. Crisp is one of Billy Beane’s (and the fanbase’s) favorites, which is why he extended him with a two-year pact that starts this year for $11 million and the same amount for 2016. There is also a vesting option for 2017, as well. That’s not a lot of money for the ambitious spenders of MLB, but it’s a king’s ransom for Oakland’s ownership group. Some questioned this extension as a bit of folly for a 35-year-old guy with a fragile frame, but anytime the A’s actually spend some real cash, I’m all for it.
The reasons why Coco got this contract are many, but his fantastic defense is front and center as the main one. I couldn’t care less that he possesses a noodle for an arm. He runs down balls that very few people on the planet could reach. It’s not just his pace — his initial read of the ball’s trajectory lends itself to him running perfect pursuit angles.
But as I mentioned, he’s quite thin and susceptible to missing time in uniform. From multiple broken fingers to a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder to almost being run over by the Mariner Moose on its ATV, Crisp is very familiar with the DL. When I first shook his hand in 2010, I was surprised by how skinny and light it was for a pro. He presently has pink eye again, having missed more than a week back in September of 2012 with the same malady. The A’s know how valuable their leadoff hitter and best defender is, so they’re publicly creating ways to reduce his workload in the field. But Crisp is still Oakland’s best threat to steal and often crashes into outfield walls on defense. Being injury-prone does not mean one is weak; in fact, it sometimes indicates a full commitment to the cause. But with Beane shipping out almost all of his run producers from last season, a healthy Crisp is now more vital than ever.
Meanwhile, Josh Reddick also plays outfield with a full-blooded panache. This is why he finds himself regularly on a training table instead of in the lineup. He wears his emotions on his sleeve, and his mini-tantrums borne from hitting futility have not waned much. He told me at FanFest he would try to curb instances of helmet slamming and other such acts of frustration, but it’s not easy for him to just turn the other cheek when he’s left men stranded in scoring position. He has an above-average arm in right field and is adept at climbing the wall (ask Michael Morse), so his defense is important in the grand scheme. He admits he’s no longer a three-hole hitter and won’t try to be a power guy anymore. This is a crucial admission from a player who hit 32 bombs in 2012 but has just 24 clouts in the last two years combined. The good news is that concerning his batting average, he hit 40 points higher last season than he did in his disastrous 2013 campaign. Despite any and all struggles Reddick has had, he’s also a favorite of the general manager.
Luck has a lot to do with staying healthy in professional sports – just ask new third baseman Brett Lawrie. So as the A’s embark on a new Cactus League schedule tomorrow, they will do everything they can to keep their two best outfielders fit and sound. While they’re not Faberge Eggs, both Crisp and Reddick tend to be a tad on the delicate side. Perhaps they should keep both of them in nets like Kobe beef when they’re not playing. The A’s certainly need these guys if they plan on making the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, especially Coco. Fingers crossed.