Originally posted on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 1/4/12

When ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the A’s had agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal that will keep Coco Crisp in Oakland, the reaction was unkind to general manager Billy Beane. Although the move does seem a bit out of left field for a team coming off a fire sale, it’s actually a sensible one.

Crisp will earn $6 million in 2012 and $7 million 2013, before the A’s decide whether to exercise a $7.5 million club option with a $1 million buyout for 2014. Heading into his age-32 season, Crisp is unlikely to decline much over the course of the deal, and he was worth 3.2 WARP in 2011. Even if he averages only 2.0 WARP in 2012 and 2013, the A’s would get a fair value return on their investment.

Much of the criticism of the deal dwelled on the point that the Cardinals landed Carlos Beltran for $26 million over two years, and that Crisp is not half the player Beltran is. But Beltran—despite a .300/.385/.525 triple slash that’s far sexier than Crisp’s .264/.314/.379—contributed just 3.4 WARP to the Mets and Giants last season. Leaving aside the notion that Beltran would not have signed for the same terms with Oakland, WARP suggests that Crisp was nearly as valuable as Beltran. The only difference is that Crisp’s value was tied to baserunning and defense, while Beltran earned his money in the batter’s box.

Crisp’s peripherals also suggest a reasonable chance to improve in 2012. His .284 BABIP last season was well below his career mark of .303, even though his line-drive rate spiked from 16.5 percent to 24 percent. Both are likely to regress, and the aggregate should lead to a modest improvement in both batting average and on-base percentage.

The A’s young pitchers will also benefit from having one of the best defensive center fielders in the game manning Oakland’s pastures. With the rest of the outfield likely to be comprised of young players—including newly acquired Josh Reddick and Collin Cowgill, as well as prospects Michael Taylor and Chris Carter—Crisp also gives the team a veteran presence that may ease their transition.

 Because of the A’s fire sale, Crisp is set to be the team’s highest-paid player, and will earn a considerable chunk of the payroll.  But that’s more a matter of circumstance than an indication of a bad contract. Assuming he stays relatively healthy, Crisp should be worth what the A’s will pay him, helping both on the field and in the clubhouse. And he’s got an 80-grade hair tool to boot.   

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