Outfield Picture Muddy in Oakland

The Oakland Athletics organization has a lot of depth in the outfield. Full-time jobs are guaranteed for just two players: newly acquired star Matt Holliday and whiff king Jack Cust. The former will be the A’s No. 1 offensive cog in the lineup and should bat third or fourth with plenty of opportunities to drive in runs. The fear, though, is that his offensive ceiling has been overrated by playing in Colorado for his entire career to this point. And Oakland is far from a hitter’s park.

Holliday’s career splits are .357/.423/.645 at home and .280/.348/.455 on the road. Last season, Holliday’s OPS was .892 on the road. In Oakland, only Cust had a slugging percentage more than .390 with 200 or more at-bats. Even if the club’s new slugger does regress to his career road splits both at home and while touring the league, then he is still an offensive upgrade for the club and should drive in his fair share of runs.

Cust’s playing time could be affected by the signing of veteran slugger Jason Giambi, who will spend time at designated hitter and first base. Cust will spend time at designated hitter and left-field. He has some of the most intriguing power in the game but the strikeouts – 197 in 481 at-bats last season – hurt. Cust’s value is also negatively impacted by a low batting average (.239 career) and lower-than-you’d-like RBI totals (159 in the last two seasons) in part because he hit just .231 with runners in scoring position last season.

Someone has to play center-field in Oakland and it will likely be incumbent Ryan Sweeney, who spent 51 games there last season. He is not a ton of help to Fantasy teams because he doesn’t hit for much power (five homers in 2008), he doesn’t run a lot (nine stolen bases), and his batting average is modest (.286). At his best, Sweeney projects to be a 15-15 player.

Both Matt Murton, acquired last season in the Rich Harden/Chad Gaudin trade, and Chris Denorfia are quality fourth outfielders and would have an outside shot of playing everyday for a few teams in Major League Baseball. In 2006 with Chicago, Murton hit .297/.365/.444 in 144 games but he has struggled for playing time ever since, mainly because there has always been someone just a little bit better than him on the roster. The former supplemental first round draft pick (by Boston) deserves at least a platoon role with a career line against southpaws of .311/.382/.484. Denorfia’s career has been derailed by injuries. He’s a grinder-type, though, that doesn’t really help out Fantasy managers very much even when he plays everyday because he projects to hit about 10 home runs, steal 10-15 bases and hit about .270.

Former first round pick Travis Buck could not follow up his breakout 2007 season (.288/.377/.474 in 82 games) because of injuries and general ineffectiveness (.226/.291/.432). If he’s healthy in 2009 and gets some playing time, Buck’s power potential could be of value for the A’s, and Fantasy teams. He is the most deserving of a regular role among the non-guaranteed starters.

Aaron Cunningham made his Major League debut in 2009 after being part of the reward for trading Dan Haren to Arizona last year. Scouts are split on Cunningham’s offensive potential and he could end up having a similar offensive output to Denorfia, by being able to do a little bit of everything but nothing quite often enough to become a Fantasy darling. On the other hand, if everything clicks he has an outside shot of being a 20-20 player.

Players with limited upside who threaten to steal playing time from more productive players include Rajai Davis and Rule 5 draft pick Ben Copeland. Davis does not really belong in the American League as his value lies in pinch running and acting as a defensive replacement late in games. Copeland, selected out of San Francisco, has some intriguing minor league numbers but he projects as a fourth outfielder who can run a little and isn’t afraid to take a walk. But his ceiling is tempered by his lack of power and questionable ability to hit for average.

It will be interesting to see how playing time is handed out in Oakland’s outfield in 2009 with 11 outfielders on the club’s 40-man roster, not including youngster Eric Patterson who split time between second base and the outfield in 2008.

We hoped you liked reading Outfield Picture Muddy in Oakland by Marc Hulet!

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Awesome read. I’m a pretty big A’s fan, and this is the best analysis I’ve read about their outfield situation, and it’s a fantasy piece written by somebody who usually covers more general topics.

What does that say about our industry? lol