The A’s will arrive at spring training and greet two new pieces to their outfield mix, lending some intrigue as to how that position group shakes out by Opening Night.
Matt Joyce was signed in November to a two-year $11 million deal and provides a veteran left-handed hitter who can play either corner spot and be an effective pinch hitter. Just last week, Rajai Davis inked a one-year $6 million contract and is expected to be the everyday center fielder.
Beyond those two, there’s left fielder Khris Davis — coming off a 42-homer season — and a mix of others who could fit into the 25-man puzzle and perhaps factor in at designated hitter too.
A month’s worth of Cactus League games will help manager Bob Melvin and the front office sort things out, but here’s a look at how Oakland’s outfield currently shapes up.
STARRING CAST: Rajai Davis, who remains one of the major leagues’ most dangerous base runners at age 36, is a strong candidate to hit leadoff. His speed and base-stealing ability is needed because the A’s finished last in the American League last season in runs and slugging percentage, and as the roster currently stands, they still don’t look like a team that will be powered greatly by the long ball.
With Khris Davis expected to man left field most of the time (he’ll also get at-bats at DH), Joyce could form a platoon in right field with the right-handed hitting Mark Canha, who is a wild card as he returns from hip surgery that limited him to 16 games last year. Joyce, 32, hits righties well and posted a .403 on-base percentage in 293 plate appearances with Pittsburgh last season, and that was a big draw for an A’s team that ranked last in the league with a .304 OBP. He also led major league pinch hitters in RBI and walks and tied for the lead with four homers. Overall, he slashed .242/.403/.463 with 13 homers and 42 RBI.
CAMP COMPETITION: Lots of variables will factor into the makeup of the outfield. Do the A’s keep four outfielders or five? Do they sign a power hitter that can share first base with Yonder Alonso? If not, Canha may see significant time in a first-base platoon and that would open up an opportunity for another outfielder. It’s highly unlikely that Jake Smolinski and Brett Eibner, who hit right-handed, both make the roster. But one of them certainly could. Give Smolinski the edge entering camp as he’s done more in an A’s uniform to this point. Matt Olson, a combo first baseman/right fielder who the A’s hope blossoms into a bonafide big-league power hitter, probably needs a huge spring to break camp with the club as the roster stands right now.
A’s fans will get introduced to Jaycob Brugman this spring. A 17th round pick out of BYU in 2013, the left-handed hitting Brugman batted .285 with 12 homers and 87 RBI combined last season between Double-A Midland and Triple-A Nashville, and he provides a solid glove at all three outfield spots. The A’s added him to the 40-man roster this winter, and Brugman (who turns 25 later this month) will be in big league camp for the first time. Count him as the dark horse in the outfield competition.
PAY ATTENTION TO: Whether the A’s throw their hat in the ring for free agent Jose Bautista. With the six-time All Star still lingering on the open market, there’s thought that the 36-year-old Bautista may settle for a one-year contract. It doesn’t seem so far-fetched for Oakland to get involved in an offseason where the A’s already made an aggressive run at Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista, who’s primarily a right fielder, hit 40 homers for Toronto as recently as 2015.