Crisp out to prove he can be valuable to A's

Injuries relegating 36-year-old to limited role

Crisp out to prove he can be valuable to A's

MESA, Ariz. -- Coco Crisp has been labeled as healthy this spring, though that's a loose term in his vocabulary, which is why the A's outfielder prefers to go with, "I feel normal" these days.

It's been nearly two years since Crisp crashed into the center-field wall at the Coliseum, bringing upon a chronic neck condition that can only be resolved by surgery that would force him out of the game.

"That would be the end of my career," Crisp said. "When things are going on like that, it's kind of tough to not have that in your mind, to where you're like, 'well this might be the end of the road.'

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"Before I hurt my neck, I was like, I'll play until I'm 50, because that's how I felt."

Crisp is 36 now and, because of his health issues, perhaps not quite as invincible, agile, or dependable. But he still feels he can contribute to an A's club on which he's the longest-tenured and, at $11 million, most expensive player, with a 2017 option based on plate appearances and games played that is unlikely to vest.

Though he appears to be a shell of the player he was when the A's locked him up ahead of the 2010 season, Crisp still brings value in the form of speed, defense and a switch-hitting bat, and he's been rather receptive to a non-everyday role, understanding his career could be helped along by occasional rest.

"I'm always going to have this neck thing, but it's about making sure I don't do anything that might severely activate it," Crisp said. "I can deal with minor things here and there.

"I don't think there's a formula for this. I don't know if I played all year long or if I didn't play at all it would be the same or different. It's just a matter of going out and playing and taking it one day at a time."

But he still needs to play enough to warrant a roster spot, and just how long he's allowed to occupy one will be determined by his production. Crisp hit .175/.252/.222 in 44 games last year, with six of his 22 hits coming in the pinch. This spring, his average sits at .167 across 42 at-bats.

On Sunday, he doubled, two days after homering with the A's in game action for the first time since August 2014.

"He is a guy that we've always said, middle of December, he can get out of bed and hit," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "He's not a guy that needs a lot to get ready, it's more about trying to get him healthy for the season. I know he hit a lot more this offseason than he has in years past, started a lot earlier. He might be a little frustrated with his overall numbers, but he's hit some balls hard, and what we're seeing during all the pregame stuff is good."

"I just want to be able to help the team," said Crisp, who has endured nine career disabled list stints, including six with Oakland. "I'm not saying it's my last year, but my career is coming to an end. It just is what it is. But right now, I feel like my old self."

Crisp has played in 130-plus games in only two of his six seasons in Oakland, but he was a cornerstone piece of the A's postseason runs in 2012-14, acting as the lineup igniter.

"Coco's been a great player for a long time, and he was a big part of those playoff runs," infielder Jed Lowrie said. "I can relate. Injuries are tough, and that chronic neck condition can't be easy, but we've seen what he's capable of when he's healthy."

Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Major Lee-ague, follow her on Twitter @JaneMLB and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.