How Does Trevor Plouffe Fit in With the Oakland A's?
Trevor Plouffe is coming back closer to home, as he’s agreed to a one-year deal with the Oakland Athletics that’ll essentially replace his final year of club control the Minnesota Twins opted out of by releasing the third baseman in November. Plouffe is a 2004 graduate of Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, Calif. -- some 350 miles from the O.co Coliseum.
Financial terms were not immediately available, but it’s safe to assume Plouffe is taking considerably less than the $8.2 million MLB Trade Rumors had him pegged for in his final year of arbitration eligibility -- a price point the Twins deemed prohibitive.
It wasn’t necessarily that the Twins deemed Plouffe prohibitive as a player; in fact, his line of .260/.303/.420 in 2016 almost exactly mirrors his career line of .247/.308/.420. Simply put, it was time for Minnesota to find out if Miguel Sano can handle third base full-time.
The Twins could've avoided putting Sano in right field altogether, giving Plouffe a fresh start with two years of club control left in a greener pasture. But the organization wanted to do right by Plouffe, who had become a clubhouse leader -- in addition to a fine player -- and who wanted to stick around. Moving Sano to right in lieu of moving Plouffe set the wheels in motion for the 103-loss fiasco in 2016, it could be argued. It certainly lit the fuse.
There’s no way of knowing what sort of market there was for Plouffe going into 2016, anyway. An awfully similar player, if not more desirable, in David Freese had to wait until March 11 to find a landing spot, and he signed for a modest $3 million with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s pretty easy to see Freese at $3 million and readily available on the free-agent market all offseason as a preferable option to the younger Plouffe, who collected a tidy $7.25 million for his work in 2016.
It wasn’t uncouth for the Twins to keep Plouffe around even if they had moved Sano to third base. Sano was just one baseball season removed from Tommy John surgery, and had played a mere 77 big-league innings at the position in 2015.
A Tough 2015 Season
In short, if there was blame for how things panned out in Minnesota, it would be hard to place it on anyone specifically.
Plouffe’s final year -- despite hitting relatively close to his career marks -- was a huge disappointment. He played just 84 games, with separate oblique injuries derailing his chance at making any sort of progress on a 103-loss team. After returning from the injury that cost him all of July, the second one flared up in early September.
In the 26 games he did play in, Plouffe hit .277/.345/.465 while splitting time between first and third base -- more so latter than the former -- while spending some time as a designated hitter.
Plouffe's Role Moving Forward
Chances are, that’s the role he’ll fill in Oakland. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle suggested he’ll likely take the bulk of playing time at third base, with Ryon Healy -- the incumbent at third base -- will move to designated hitter while mixing in with Yonder Alonso at first. Knowing the A’s, they’ll mix and match to keep guys fresh and also in a position to succeed.
Slusser intimated in a later tweet that most in the organization didn’t expect Healy to be the future at third base anyway, but more likely a fixture at first with Plouffe as the stopgap until Matt Chapman -- who hit 36 home runs with an .847 OPS in 589 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A last season -- arrives to play third base.
As a right-handed hitter, Plouffe has been far more effective against lefties throughout his career. In 791 career plate appearances against southpaws, Plouffe has hit .268/.344/.465 while posting just a .239/.294/.403 mark against righties. This would sort of lend him to more of a platoon role, something the A’s have proven adept at using. He’s not terribly dissimilar from former teammate Danny Valencia, sans any potential clubhouse brouhahas.
Plouffe is very, very good in the clubhouse, while Valencia has....well he’s going to play for his seventh MLB team in eight seasons this year. We’ll leave it at that.
As a defender, Plouffe has come a long way. He was drafted as a shortstop and made it to the big leagues as one -- no small task -- but struggled making consistent throws. That problem dogged him over to third base, but through persistent additional work, he turned himself into a good defender at the hot corner.
FanGraphs had him rated as a plus defender for two straight years before lapsing a bit in 2016 -- most likely due to injuries. Plouffe has virtually no foot speed, but has a good first step at third base, fairly good reactions and a very strong throwing arm. There was some chatter about him possibly playing outfield in Oakland like he did for a spell with the Twins, but that theory likely doesn’t have *ahem* wheels.
He doesn’t have enough mobility to play corner outfield, though the arm played well in right field with the Twins.
Plouffe also evolved into a fairly solid defensive first baseman, which could make him a possible mix-and-match partner with Alonso, who is just a .242/.309/.338 career hitter against lefties.
O.co Coliseum -- A Dubious Park Fit?
O.co is billed as cavernous, but is that more about attendance and foul territory than anything else? StatCorner suggests....not really.
In 2016, the Coliseum had Park Factors for right-handed hitters of 95 for singles, 94 for doubles/triples and just 77 for home runs (over 100 favors hitters and under 100 favors pitchers). By comparison, Target Field was in excess of 100 across all hits for right-handed hitters last season.
Adjusted statistics like wRC+ and OPS+ will take that into consideration, but most fantasy statistics will not. The 2015 season was a little better at the Coliseum, with a 99 mark for singles and a 100 mark for non-homer extra-base hits, but it was still a deathbed for right-handed thump (a mark of 80).
Ultimately, it was most likely a good personal move for Plouffe to get back to California. Professionally, it seems less so. The A’s should be able to put him in a good spot to succeed based on matchups, but it’s going to be difficult for him to add any offense in a difficult home park.
2017 Fantasy Outlook
Plouffe can be a viable commodity, but he'll have to be used properly. That can be particularly difficult since a platoon is not sensible in shallower leagues and can be tough to match up in deeper leagues. Even with his remarkably consistent track record, the park fit and the platoon need make him almost certainly hands off in most leagues -- especially considering third base had the second-highest OPS (.777) in baseball last season.
A midseason trade to a more accommodating park could help, though.
After all, these are the A's and Chapman isn't far off, so a move to a better park for right-handed power could put Plouffe on the fantasy radar. Steamer projections only have him getting into 63 games this year, but even if we double that, he's still only pegged for 18 home runs and about 65 RBI.
Hitting 18 home runs would put Plouffe in the middle of a crowded group of hitters between 18 and 20 home runs -- Eugenio Suarez, Justin Turner, Anthony Rendon, Matt Carpenter, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Bregman -- and even then, there are still 11 (!) third basemen projected to hit more than that. In fact, Plouffe and Suarez look awfully similar, and Suarez gets the nod because he plays in a much more accommodating home park.
Each of the other guys has at least one skill vastly superior to Plouffe, either in terms of fantasy viability or that'll at least keep them on the field in real life.