Article written exclusively for TheFantasyFix.com by Mick Grilli.
While having your lead-off hitter go down for 6 to 8 weeks on the precipice of a new season is difficult for any team to overcome, the Oakland Athletics will miss veteran Coco Crisp’s leadership more than his actual on-field production as he rehabs from elbow surgery.
Crisp played a vital role in the A’s recent playoff pushes in 2012 and 2013, but saw a pretty staggering 80 point dip in his OPS in 2014, putting him below league average for only the second time since coming to Oakland back in 2010. Crisp’s defense also suffered last season in terms of most defensive metrics. He had been an above average defender for the majority of his career, but on the wrong side of 30, Oakland had already been planning to play Coco in leftfield as opposed to center.
With Billy Beane at the helm, the Oakland A’s are always exploring the trade market and combing the waiver wire to improve their ball club; however, the team has viable options for replacing Crisp right in-house at the major league level. Manager Bob Melvin had been planning on using a righty/lefty platoon of Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry in Centerfield, and both men possess at least the speed to fill in that slot at the top of the lineup.
Melvin has a few choices to make before he can plug that hole in leftfield, and although Spring Training stats are not always indicative of how the season is going to go, he has to be feeling pretty good about his options. The injury to Coco Crisp allows for a youth movement in Oakland as they can now carry both Mark Canha and Billy Burns on the 25-man roster. Burns has hit nearly .400 in his 73 at-bats this spring, posting an impressive slash line of .397/.444/.507. Canha has also played well and shown some impressive power in the form of a .648 slugging percentage and 6 homers.
If Melvin would rather take the more experienced route in replacing Coco Crisp, he also has the recent offseason acquisition of super-utility man Ben Zobrist. Zobrist is coming off back-to-back years with the Tampa Bay Rays where he had hit his career OBP of .354 right on the nose. Not only does Zobrist get on base at an above average clip (and provides more value than Crisp in that sense) but he also has shown more consistent power, averaging upwards of 38 doubles for the last four seasons. Zobrist was originally brought on to be Oakland’s starting second baseman after an abysmal 2014 campaign from Eric Sogard; but in light of Sogard’s successful spring training, Melvin should feel confident that he can produce at least at a league average level while they await Crisp’s return.
Now, in terms of fantasy value, Coco Crisp does a lot of little things day-to-day that can get you points; but again, age could be an issue for Crisp. He has never been a particularly durable player (playing less than 130 games in 8 of his 13 Major League seasons) but with this recent injury and a declining skill set, Crisp can find himself on the wrong side of a platoon even after he returns from injury. This bodes poorly for fantasy owners expecting Crisp to get his job back upon his return. As someone who has not personally been a fan of Coco’s game to this point, I would start looking elsewhere for an outfielder. If a trade is out of the cards for you, both Dalton Pompey and Dexter Fowler should put up numbers comparable to Crisp and neither is owned in more than 35% of fantasy.
Pompey and Fowler are both slotted to be the starting centerfielders for their respective clubs, and both players have yet to hit 30 years old. Admittedly, Fowler’s performance has been underwhelming thus far in his career, but has shown flashes of brilliance from leading the league in triples back in 2010 to hitting .300 and posting an OPS of .863 in 2012 (two things Coco Crisp has never done). Pompey on the other hand has had great spring, and being only 21 years of age, is a highly touted prospect and has a much higher ceiling.
Whether you go with Fowler, Pompey, or decide to try and work out a trade, it is best to part ways with Coco Crisp now. At 35 years old, it is in both your best interest, and in the Oakland A’s best interest to make the move younger.