Could Eric Chavez Be This Spring's Gary Sheffield?

This really isn't anything more than an interesting note, but Matt Klaasen's piece on FanGraphs yesterday (which is a good read, as always) brought to light the idea that former franchise player Eric Chavez really doesn't fit into Oakland's roster particularly well.

The presumption is that Chavez has a leg up on making Oakland's roster as a back-up 1B/3B because he's due $15M before the end of his contract, with a $12M salary for 2010 and a $3M buyout of his 2011 club option. At the time of the six-year, $66M extension, Chavez was coming off years of 5.6, 4.1 and 5.7 WAR in his age 24-26 seasons, flashing a consistent +20-25 run bat and one of the best gloves in the league at third base. But injuries have made the deal one of the most maligned in the league, as Chavez only played 31 games in the past two seasons and really hasn't been the same player since 2004.

I know Spring Training statistics are about as worthless as post-grunge music, but Chavez is batting just .192 this spring with 2 homers and 5 RBI in 9 games, and while scouts have said that he should make a fine transition to first base, he'll never really be the same defender at the hot corner. The A's already have everyday first and third basemen in Daric Barton and Kevin Kouzmanoff, respectively. They have a good utility infielder in Adam Rosales, and as Klaasen's piece concluded, they should probably try to find room on their roster for a potentially very good hitter in offseason acquisition Jake Fox.

Right now, Oakland's bench projects as catcher Landon Powell, Chavez, Rosales and outfielder Gabe Gross, which excludes both Fox and utility man Eric Patterson. Rosales, Powell and Gross would seem to be locks for the bench, as Oakland's likely to prioritize their defensive value and Gross has had a very good spring. But squeezing Fox off the roster presumably wasn't what GM Billy Beane planned when he traded reliever Jeff Gray and prospects Ronny Morla and Matt Spencer to Chicago for Fox and the contract of Aaron Miles, which then ended up in Cincinnati as part of the Rosales deal.

Last spring, the Tigers surprised the league by releasing designated hitter Gary Sheffield, eating the remaining $14M minus the league minimum that the New York Mets paid upon signing him. The Tigers were expected to let Sheffield take the DH role again, but after a very disappointing 2008 the team opted to let their other veterans, such as Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Marcus Thames and eventually Aubrey Huff, to rotate through the position.

Could the Athletics similarly eat Chavez's $15M this spring? At this point, anything is purely speculation, as the Athletics haven't really made any hints towards what their plans are with Chavez, and maybe they'd like to give their former cornerstone one more chance to prove himself before pulling the plug, as he's apparently finally healthy. But this is a guy who hasn't really been an effective major leaguer in years, and he's on a roster that's full of younger, healthier options that could potentially match or even exceed his production. Maybe Chavez proves to be healthy and has an unlikely late-career Renaissance. But right now, he's this year's candidate to be last year's Gary Sheffield.

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