Daric Barton has a small fracture on the middle finger of his right hand. He made the trip to Tampa and will be re-evaluated today. Because he wasn't immediately DL-ed, I guess it's possible that this is less of an issue than I think, but I fully expect Barton to miss some time, perhaps even a couple of weeks.
Barton has been the best A's hitter by far. His .488 OBP is second in the AL and he is one of two A's with SLG percentages over .400. On a team with so few threats at the plate, the A's need to replace him with someone (or more likely someones) who can actually hit.
The solution depends on how much time Barton will miss. If Barton only misses a few games and does not need to go on the DL the A's can probably get by with Chavez and Fox splitting time at first, with the other getting at bats at DH along with Eric Patterson. As much as I'd like to see Chavez return to his early 2000s form, the odds are against it. Fox is no sure thing either and as questionable as it was to have them split DH duties, relying on them both and Eric Patterson is dicey.
The A's only other real option is to look to AAA for the answer. Perhaps if Dallas McPherson or Sean Doolittle were healthy, they'd be options. McPherson, however, is out with a strained hamstring and Doolittle is still battling knee problems and has yet to make his season debut. That leaves Chris Carter as the A's only alternative to playing two of Chavez, Fox, and Patterson every day.
There is no doubt that Carter represents the future for the A's either at first base or DH. But there are two huge reasons not to call him up now. The first, is that he simply may not be a good major league hitter right now. His .290/.347/.522 line in Sacramento certainly isn't bad, but it certainly doesn't scream "promote me" either. He's struck out 19 times and walked only five times in 17 games. It's not entirely clear that he'd outhit Patterson right now. Patterson hit .307/.376/.494 last season in Sacramento.
More importantly, though, is the effect that a callup would have on Carter's development. Combined with last year's AAA numbers, he has barely over 100 AAA plate appearances and could seemingly use at least another half season there. Player development is far from an exact science, but normally, rushing prospects hurt their development. Whatever the reason, if the A's call up Carter before he's ready, they risk him not turning into the impact level hitter they expect him to be. Given that he is a bit of a high risk prospect, mostly because of his high strikeout totals, I'd err on the side of caution and not call him up until it was clear that he was ready.
What then, do I recommend the A's do? First, even despite the A's lack of alternatives I'd be careful with Barton's hand injury. He finally seems to be living up to the promise he's shown in the minors. If he were to rush back and aggravate the injury the results could be disastrous both for this season and for Barton's career. Because I don't think Carter is ready for the majors, I'd roll the dice with the non-Carter options for as long as it is tenable. It's time to see if Fox and/or Patterson can be everyday players and if Chavez can be a healthy and productive DH. If after a month or so they haven't proven they can hit major league pitching, and if Barton isn't back, and if Carter is ready (or at least near-ready), that is when they should think about calling up Carter.
Maybe my worrying is for naught and Barton is fine and the fracture on his finger isn't too severe. But given the A's track record with injuries in the past - and the fact that they haven't shown much improvement this year (see Ellis, Mark) - I really hope they're sure he's healed before Barton sees the field again. Yes, it'd be nice if the A's could plug Chris Carter right into Barton's lineup spot and assume he'll go Jason Heyward on the league. But games aren't won and prospects aren't made by wishing really hard. There are no ideal solutions to this problem, but the A's sure could make things worse by making the wrong choices.