Oakland Athletics

Opinion: Sam Fuld Has Earned The Right To Stay On A’s Roster

A combined total of 47 at bats amongst three players is hardly a sample size that you any manager or general manager would want to base an important roster decision. While that sample size will grow slightly before Bob Melvin, Billy Beane and the brain trust of the Oakland A’s, the fact that remains that Oakland will soon be dealing with a roster decision that will send out a player in favor of the returning Craig Gentry.

As it stood heading into the regular season, the odd man out was going to be Sam Fuld. The only concerning factor in this decision were the opt-out clauses that Fuld possessed in his contract. Oakland could have lost him to free agency if he were not on the roster. The next such date that Fuld can choose to opt out if he is not on the 25-man roster is June 1. The way he has played in his opportunities through the first week of the season though, it would almost be shocking if Fuld were not still on the active roster come May 1. Actually, it will be shocking if he is removed from the active roster at all.

Heading into the A’s first road trip of the season, Fuld is currently batting .308/.357/.615 with two triples, two RBI and a stolen base in his first 14 plate appearances (13 official at bats). Again, it is a small sample size, for sure, but Fuld has been one of the truly exciting players to watch in the A’s lineup through the first week. Only Brandon Moss (.333) and Jed Lowrie (.316) have higher batting averages with as many at bats as Fuld.

Add to the offensive display the amazing defensive show that Fuld displayed in Sunday’s game against the Mariners, including a Josh Reddick-like throw from right field to nail a runner at third base and a Superman catch, fully extended to rob a base hit, and Fuld has all the makings of becoming a fan favorite in Oakland.

The most obvious choice to keep both Gentry and Fuld on the roster would be to designate Daric Barton for assignment and go with a first base platoon of Moss and Alberto Callaspo, keeping Fuld and Gentry as the fourth and fifth outfielders and extending the DH carousel to include Cespedes, Crisp and Reddick in addition to Moss.

Barton is batting just .071/.133/.071 with one walk through 15 plate appearances (14 official at bats). Typically very solid defensively, Barton has also had a few gaffs with the leather that call into question what his place on the roster is if not a defensive replacement. He certainly is not showing any reason that he should be starting over Moss or Callaspo on any given day, against any given pitcher.

Dropping Barton from the roster would require designating him for assignment, and risking losing him to any of the other 29 organizations. Barton passed through waivers twice in 2013, so it is certainly possible that he could pass through once again and remain in the A’s organization, but there is a risk. Fans may not be at all upset if he were lost to another organization, but the A’s front office clearly has a soft spot for Barton and appreciates the defensive abilities that he (usually) brings to the table.

Another option, albeit a far more unpopular one, would be to option Reddick to Triple-A and let him work on his slumping swing. Reddick is batting just .100/.182/.100 in 22 plate appearances (20 official at bats) with two walks and eight strikeouts. There is no doubt that Reddick has more power than both Gentry and Fuld, probably combined, but his offensive struggles are now dating back to the second half of the 2012 season and despite a promising spring training, he is not showing signs of figuring it out right now.

In the first half of the 2012 season, Reddick batted .268/.348/.532 with 20 homers and 43 RBI in 83 games. He has batted just .218 with 24 homers in the following 702 at bats over 192 games since the first half of 2012. The talent is there, the defense is there, something just isn’t clicking at the plate the way that it was when he first came to Oakland. The fact that Reddick has options remaining and Barton does not, gives the chance, however remote it may be, that Beane could decide to give his struggling right fielder some time with Sacramento to figure out his swing and build some confidence before recalling him to the Major League roster at some point in the near future.

Such a move would certainly draw the ire of A’s fans that love Reddick and loathe them some Barton. Truthfully, I haven’t heard any mention of the possibility of Reddick being sent down instead of Barton, I am simply speculating that given his remaining minor league option and his own well documented struggles, perhaps it wouldn’t be the worst decision in the world to give him some minor league at bats. His value has always been his defense, but Fuld is proving every bit as capable a defender as Reddick, and the 32-year old veteran is more versatile, capable of playing all three outfield spots.

For those that can’t believe I would even utter such thoughts in writing, Barton is probably not long for this season. Any measure of success at all from Reddick in the minors would warrant his return and Barton’s DFA.

Many still believe, including myself, that Reddick has the ability to become a key part of a very dynamic outfield group in Oakland if he can figure out his swing. He may never hit 32 homers again in a season, but he has the power and the ability to be a .260-.275 hitter with 20-25 homer power while playing Gold Glove caliber defense.

“When you get off to a slow start…sometimes you try to do little bit too much,” Melvin told MLB.com’s Alex Espinoza. “You’re a guy that the team relies on offensively and you get a little frustrated, but he’ll get it back.”

Right now though? While Sam Fuld is leaps and bounds ahead of Barton, he is also ahead of Reddick in the production department, giving the A’s a few options to keep Fuld on the roster.

It shouldn’t even be a question of keeping Fuld on the active roster at this point, it should only be a question of whether you risk losing Barton by DFA’ing him a third time, or if you give Reddick some AB’s in the minors to try to work through his woes.

To put it more simply, and to keep with what had become a trending hashtag on Twitter, #KeepSamFuld.

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