Previewing 2022 A’s outfield after Mark Canha, Starling Marte sign with Mets

The inevitable is starting to happen. Within the past 24 hours, the New York Mets have signed former A’s outfielders Mark Canha and Starling Marte, marking the beginning of the expected offseason exodus in Oakland.  

Canha foreshadowed his departure in a recent interview with MLB Network radio, when he spoke in past tense about his seven-season tenure with the A’s.  

“It was really special,” Canha said. “We had such a talented, fun group. You couldn’t help but have fun as a member of the Oakland A’s the past few years. Bob Melvin certainly made that easy. I’m going to miss those guys. There’s so many good players in the organization. It was a good ride. 

“The fact it was in the Bay Area where I grew up and my family got to watch me play whenever they wanted, that was pretty special, too. That chapter of my career, it’s never lost on me how lucky I was to play in the Bay Area and I’ll always appreciate that and look back on that fondly.”

It’s been cool to see Canha become a bona fide big leaguer after wedging his way on to the A’s roster as Rule 5 draft pick in 2015. The San Jose native attended Bellarmine Prep before going to Cal, where he played alongside Marcus Semien. Throughout the years, Canha, Semien and Bob Melvin were always outspoken about their love for the Golden Bears.

Canha created a certain connection with the A’s fans with his no BS attitude, aloof but in-depth observations about the game, ability to sneak in a Bull Durham quote to his postgame media sessions, and with his food recommendations in the Bay Area and around the country. 

According to Jeff Passan, Canha signed a two-year contract worth $26.5 million Friday. That’s a nice payday for the 32-year-old, who gets to go live in one of the food meccas of the world. If he produces for the Mets, he could be in line for another nice contract in 2023.

During his seven seasons with the A’s, Canha developed into one of the league’s peskiest hitters. He crowds the plate and takes a lot of pitches off his elbow guard, leading the American League in HBP in 2021 with 27. One of the best moments of his career came earlier this year, when he acknowledged the crowd after becoming the A’s all-time HBP leader.

Even though Canha faded in the second half, slashing just .206/.340/.316 with six homers and 28 RBI after the All-Star break, he still proved he can be a patient hitter with some pop. He finished the year with 17 dingers, 61 RBI and a .231/.358/.387 slash line and lost his spot as the leadoff man in late August. He ranked second in the league with 4.23 pitches seen per plate appearance, second only to Matt Chapman.

Canha worked himself into a solid defensive outfielder at all three positions over the years and could probably moonlight at first base if needed. His best season came in 2019, when he set career highs in homers (26), average (.273), on-base (.396) and slugging (.387). But it’s his Bay Area connection and unique personality that people will miss most. He’s a guy you love to have on your side but hate to play against.

With Canha’s signing, Melvin’s departure, Semien’s exit last year and the looming farwells for other stars, this offseason really feels like the end of an era for Oakland A’s baseball.

Starling Marte

Starling Marte will be joining Canha in the Mets’ outfield next season. Jon Heyman reported Marte’s deal is four years for $78 million, which is the richest for any player so far this offseason.

When the A’s acquired Marte at the trade deadline, general manager David Forst touted him as the best available position player on the market. Marte’s .310 batting average ranked sixth in MLB in 2021 while he also played Gold Glove-caliber level of defense in center field. 

Marte also led MLB in stolen bases with 47, though they were split between both leagues so he won’t be formally recognized by the record books. But to hell with that, Marte was the 2021 SB champ.

Marte might have just turned 33, but he looked absolutely explosive in his time in Oakland, where being thrown into the playoff race (for a while, at least) helped elevate his profile. Marte put together some lengthy hit streaks and jolted the team on several occasions.

In 56 games with Oakland, Marte slashed .316/.359/.466 with five homers, 30 RBI and 25 stolen bases. He also brought a swagger and bravado that permeated to his teammates. Any team would like to have a player like Marte, but his game seems more suited for the situational-centered National League.

The A’s took a gamble when they acquired Marte for southpaw Jesús Luzardo at the deadline and it didn’t pay off. They knew Marte would be a short-term rental, but it’s all for naught when you don’t make the postseason.

While Luzardo continued to struggle with the Marlins and finished 2021 with some ugly numbers (25 G, 18 starts, 95.1 IP, 6.61 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 98/48 K/BB, 20 HR allowed), I’m sure the A’s would’ve loved to have the 24-year-old in Mesa next spring training to work out the kinks. 

Considering Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea and Frankie Montas all appear to be on the trading block, the A’s could use some MLB-ready arms on the cheap. Luzardo still needs to work on his location and not giving up dingers, but it’s not often you see a 24-year-old southpaw with his 98 mph heater, changeup and breaking stuff. Just last spring, Bob Melvin was touting Luzardo as a future front-end-of-the-rotation type of guy.

Good for Marte on getting paid, as the A’s are ultimately left holding the bag on this trade.

A’s 2022 outfield

So, there goes the A’s center fielder and left fielder, as expected. 

Ramón Laureano still needs to serve 27 games of his 80-game suspension, meaning he won’t be eligible to return to Oakland until April 30 against the Cleveland Guardians (first time writing Cleveland Guardians, heyooo!).

Stephen Piscotty and his seemingly albatross of a $7.6 million contract are locked into right field. According to Spotrac, it’s the biggest financial commitment the A’s currently have to a player in 2022, considering they received some cash from the Texas Rangers last year to offset Elvis Andrus’ $15 million salary.

The A’s would likely pay more to Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt in arbitration this year — but all four of those guys could be gone by spring training. Piscotty’s 2018 season with the A’s was remarkable, as he helped care for his mother Gretchen in her final weeks in her fight against ALS.

Piscotty put up career numbers that season but has been beset by injuries since, playing in just 210 of a possible 384 games (54.9 percent). Last season, a wrist injury nagged him all season before eventually shutting him down on Aug. 18. Piscotty slashed just .220/.282/.353 with five homers and 16 RBI in 72 games — his most disappointing season with Oakland.

The Pleasanton native plays serviceable in right field but isn’t anything special on defense. If the A’s could somehow unload his contract this offseason — perhaps find a suitor willing to take him in a trade with one of their stars — that would be a big win for the front office.

If the A’s trade Olson, Seth Brown would make sense as a cheap, everyday option at first base. Otherwise, Brown figures to slot in as an everyday outfielder for the A’s. He’s probably suited for left field but could play center until Laureano returns as well.

Beyond Brown and Piscotty, there will be room for A’s prospects to earn their way on to the big-league roster and perhaps get a month-long audition in the bigs while Ramón serves his suspension. 

Skye Bolt, Luis Barrera and Cody Thomas are all capable of playing center field and are all on the 40-man roster as well. Bolt, 27, has the most MLB experience but has yet to produce at the big-league level, with just a .090 batting average (6-for-67) in 39 games with the A’s and Giants.

Barrera is a speedy contact hitter who offers little in terms of power. He slashed .276/.348/.393 with 16 doubles, four homers, 37 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 96 Triple-A games last season. Barrera is currently struggling in his native Dominican Republic during Winter League action, slashing .158/.273/.158 in 17 games with the Licey Tigers. 

The 27-year-old Thomas was acquired with Adam Kolarek from the Dodgers in 2021. He posted a much more appetizing stat line in 2021 compared to Bolt and Barrera, slashing .289/.363/.665 with 18 homers and 52 RBI in 59 games with the Las Vegas Aviators. It’s impressive Thomas was able to keep his average up so high despite striking out 78 times in 245 plate appearances (31.8 percent K rate).

It’s too bad Thomas’ season was cut short by Achilles microtears in late July, because he could have made his MLB debut in 2021. According to The Athletic’s Melissa Lockard, Thomas was cleared for a normal offseason and didn’t need to undergo surgery. He figures to be an intriguing player to watch for the A’s in 2022 spring training.

Remember 2021 spring training sensation Buddy Reed? He struggled in 43 contests with the Aviators, slashing .247/.354/.351 with a homer and 13 RBI, but remains in the conversation as well.

As it stands now, the A’s probably don’t need to spend any money on the outfield, though signing a veteran corner outfielder on a low-risk, one-year contract also makes sense. Given the A’s perceived financial constraints, they’ll probably just make due with in-house options for the 2022 season in the outfield.