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PHOENIX – It’s one thing for the Oakland A’s to decide to employ a platoon system at several positions. It’s quite another for players to embrace the philosophy and not gripe.
Enter first baseman Brandon Moss. He bashed a team-leading 30 home runs last season yet still doesn’t have the everyday job at first, since the A’s plan to use switch hitter Alberto Callaspo some against left-handed pitchers.
The left-handed hitting Moss is fully on board with the decision, and he’s a prime example of what’s helped drive Oakland to two straight division championships. No team puts all 25 players to use as much as the A’s do, and for that method to succeed, players need to buy into their role without complaining about playing time.
“Look, we all have our roles here and we all do what we’re asked to do,” Moss said Thursday. “I believe the more often you face lefties, the better you’ll be against them. But I also believe that this isn’t a time where you put a guy out there and ‘trial-and-error’ with him. We’re trying to win. It’s a time to put out the best lineup every day.”
Moss’ career batting average splits aren’t drastic – he’s hit .255 against right-handers and .242 against lefties. But there’s a bigger gap in his slugging percentage (.485 to .392) and on-base plus-slugging (.812 to .699). Because he’s logged just 260 at-bats against left-handers over seven major league seasons, it’s fair to ask if Moss might improve against lefties if he just got more exposure to them.
But it’s all a matter of perception. Moss joined the A’s in 2012 as a struggling journeyman who had just 15 major league home runs in a career that began in 2007. In two seasons with Oakland, being used primarily against right-handed pitchers, he’s knocked 51 homers.
“Two years ago, I was just trying to make sure I had a minor league job,” Moss said. “To be part of such a special group and do the things I’ve done the past couple years, I don’t think it’s any coincidence. It’s because they’ve put me in a position to succeed.”
But it will be interesting to see how things shake out at first base this season. Callaspo, used to playing second or third base, has never played a single game at first in the majors. He sounded a little uncertain about the prospect of trying first base, but said he’s willing to give it a go.
“I don’t know, I’m gonna try and do my best,” Callaspo said. “I’ve never played first base , so we’ll see what happens.”
Callaspo is a .300 hitter against lefties in 848 career at-bats, and the A’s are looking for the best way to utilize the switch hitter. He handles third base well and will spell Josh Donaldson occasionally. But utility infielder Nick Punto was signed in the offseason, and indications are he will split second base with Eric Sogard, which means Callaspo’s playing time might have to come elsewhere.
A’s manager Bob Melvin was asked if Callaspo would play first base predominantly during the Cactus League.
“Not necessarily, we’ll ease him into it,” Melvin said. “Certainly it’s a potential target of ours to get him some at-bats against left-handed pitching at first base. And we’ll see how he does with it this spring. … His versatility works against him a little bit in that he might have to do some things he hasn’t done before. But we feel like he’s able to do it.”
The current plans will make it tough for Nate Freiman to crack the 25-man roster. The right-handed hitting Freiman batted .274 in 190 at-bats as a rookie last season, mainly platooning with Moss against lefties. He missed time in September with an abdomen injury which kept him off the postseason roster.
“However it works out, they’ll make the decision that’s best for the team,” Freiman said. “Whatever happens, I look forward to getting started.”
And with the large number of players the A’s utilize, chances are Freiman will get his opportunity at some point.