Oakland adds versatile Punto to infield mix
Veteran could help at second, short, third; A's say Lowrie not going anywhere
OAKLAND -- The A's have always valued versatility in their infielders, and on Wednesday, they added yet another one who personifies this to their growing collection.
Oakland signed 13-year veteran Nick Punto to a one-year contract with a vesting option for 2015, using its first move of the offseason to add depth to the middle infield.
According to a source, the deal guarantees Punto $3 million, including $2.75 million in base salary for the 2014 season, along with a $250,000 buyout on a $2.75 million option for '15.
Punto, 36, has played every position except pitcher and catcher in his career, but he has spent the majority of his time at third base, second base and shortstop, most recently splitting his time at all three positions while batting .255 with two home runs and 21 RBIs in 116 games for the Dodgers.
He also went 2-for-6 in five National League Championship Series games against St. Louis, marking the fifth time in his career he's appeared on a postseason roster.
"We've been looking at him since the beginning of the offseason, looking at his versatility, his ability to play three infield positions, to switch-hit," said A's assistant general manager David Forst. "This is a role he's comfortable in and done very well over the last few seasons. He just fits in really well with the way we've built the roster here over the last couple of seasons."
Despite speculation that Jed Lowrie could be on the trading block, the A's are not expected to make their everyday shortstop available, even after signing Punto.
"We're not looking to move Jed Lowrie," manager Bob Melvin said on 95.7 The Game on Wednesday morning.
Forst confirmed this very sentiment, saying emphatically that acquiring Punto "has absolutely nothing to do with Jed. He's our starting shortstop."
"It's November, so we don't have to figure out exactly how Nick will be used right now," said Forst, "but whether it's his ability to give [third baseman] Josh [Donaldson] or Jed a day, play second base against lefties, come in late for defense or pinch-hit or pinch-run, there's a lot of things he can do, and it's nice to give Bob those options."
Punto isn't exactly an offensive threat, bringing with him a career .248 average and .680 OPS. But he did hit .309 with a .723 OPS against southpaws in 2013, upping his career clip against lefties to .263. The A's have thrived on the platoon, utilizing as many as four at a time in each of their last two seasons that culminated in division titles, and Punto may very well help form another next year.
The A's already employ a platoon of Eric Sogard and Alberto Callaspo at second base, but Punto figures to get plenty of playing time there, perhaps even allowing Callaspo -- owed $4.875 million in 2014 -- to be had in the trade market this winter.
Then again, the A's have traditionally enjoyed stockpiling infielders in advance of Spring Training and letting the roster form there.
"There's a long way to go between now and March 31," said Forst. "It's nice to have some pieces like that who can fit in different spots, and they're all very good players in their own right.
"We do feel like we've had a good mix of guys who are good and versatile at the same time, and it's really allowed Bob to move guys around and have some success with it."
Punto's vesting option was designed with a rather complicated formula, essentially based on time spent on the disabled list. Should he spend fewer than 30 days on the DL, Punto's 2015 option automatically vests. But there are also ways that happens even if it's more than 30 days, depending on the injury. If it doesn't vest, it turns into a club option.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.