The Long, Strange Saga of Daric Barton

“You can’t kill me!” (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison)

With the exception of Jack Cust, there has been no A’s player in recent history more polarizing than the embattled Daric Barton.

Those who believe in him defend him tirelessly and argue that he’s still young enough to realize his potential and be a productive big leaguer like he was back in 2010. Those who deride him seethe upon hearing he’s been called up yet again, and hope for nothing more than another team making a waiver claim and freeing A’s fans of the curse the powerless first baseman once he is inevitably sent back down again. While I don’t think he’ll ever become what we all expected and wanted, I believe it’s not hurting anything to have kept him around this long.

Many A’s fans groan at the mere mention of his name and angrily question why he’s still in the organization. I understand their frustration, but in my mind it’s not a problem to have had Barton hanging around all these years. In case you hadn’t noticed, the A’s haven’t exactly had a slew of good first basemen during the past few years. Thankfully, Brandon Moss came along last season, but he’s a converted outfielder with below average defense.

As long as he isn’t clogging up the system, it’s virtually harmless to hang onto a minor league player with potential who hasn’t performed consistently at the top level. Judging by the first baseman that have passed through the system in recent years, it’s safe to say Barton isn’t taking away any opportunities from anybody else by being here. I’m not even a big fan of Barton right now, but I think it’s perfectly sensible to keep him around.

Even if you don’t believe in sabremetrics and want more power from your first baseman, it’s hard to overlook what Barton did in 2010, and it’s not ridiculous to believe he can perform at that level again. Still, it’s  easy to see why he attracts so much scorn, as he was once hailed as the

I once had high hopes for Barton and I truly believed he was the first baseman of the future when the A’s acquired him (along with Dan Haren and Kiko Calero) in the Mark Mulder deal in December 2004. Scouts raved about his swing and patience.

A torrid September in 2007 during his first call-up only further heightened my own as well as everybody else’s expectations. After a tough 2008 rookie campaign (which included the infamous and much-ridiculed pool accident) and a nice little rebound in 2009, Barton seemingly came into his own in 2010, leading the American League in walks and posting an impressive 1.1 dWAR. Overall, Barton generated 5.4 WAR that season and established his reputation as a patient on-base machine. It’s been all downhill since then.

Going into the 2011 season it was reported that Barton and the A’s were working on a contract extension through 2014. However, his year was marred by a total lack of power and he was put on the shelf in July with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, an injury he reportedly tried to play through that was likely responsible for his sub-par year. He posted a dreadful .212/.325/.292 line with no homers in 236 at-bats.

Despite getting surgery in the off-season, Barton couldn’t get back on track in 2012, and he managed just a .204/.338/.292 line in 113 at-bats with the A’s. Down at Triple-A with Sacramento, he hit .255/.411/.425. An impressive OBP as usual, but still lacking in power. Despite his pedestrian year, the A’s brought him back for 2013 with a one-year , $1.1M contract.

He has performed well this year with the River Cats, hitting .297/.423/.430 with seven homers and 69 RBIs, and earned his call-up of 2013 earlier this week when Josh Reddick was placed on the disabled list with wrist trouble. Barton went 2-for-5 with two RBIs on Monday in his first game at the big league level since May 17.

With the likelihood that Barton will receive a decent chunk of playing time in the next week or so, it’s going to a literal fight for his Major League life. At 28, he is at the point in a career where a fringe player must once and for all prove he deserves a spot on a big league roster. I have a small sliver of faith he can still make an impact in this game, but if I were calling the shots I’d give him just 30 at-bats to state his case.

Regardless of how you feel about him, there is no denying his curious career has puzzled and makes for an interesting case study in the way clubs evaluate players. He doesn’t possess the prototypical skills of most first basemen and he would have more value if he played a different position with the same level of defense. Despite occasional flashes of brilliance, Barton has never been able to fully put it all together, and nearly any other player in his situation would’ve been jettisoned some time ago.

However, after nearly nine years in the organization the A’s still seem as reluctant as ever to give up on Barton. No matter the circumstances he just keeps coming back. I’m certain that when the world is annihilated by nuclear war, the only things left will be the cockroaches and Daric Barton.

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