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From the archives: Oakland Athletics' Coco Crisp (4) waits for the start of their Spring Training Cactus League game against the Seattle Mariners at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in Phoenix, Ariz. on Friday, March 2, 2012.(Anda Chu/Staff)

PHOENIX -- Coco Crisp pauses, sets his jaw and stares at the ground. He wants to be candid without sounding displeased. He is displeased, so this requires suppression.

Crisp is, or was, the A's center fielder, and a very good one. He has been informed he must move to left field, hardly a foreign country but undoubtedly out of his comfort zone.

Can an outstanding center fielder become an outstanding left fielder?

"I don't see why not," Crisp finally answers, "with practice."

He pauses again. It's apparent he wants to be deliberate, careful.

"There's an adjustment period that has to be made and a willingness to get better over there," he adds. "For someone like myself -- someone not really 100 percent onboard -- it takes . . . it's a challenge to trick yourself to be 100 percent on board."

Voiceless in this matter, Crisp spent the days leading up to Oakland's trip to Japan trying to digest reality. It's not going down well. He's 32, a 10-year veteran who last year led the A.L. in steals and played excellent center field.

His bosses realize this move, to which the A's are committed, at least for now, annoys Crisp. His teammates know, too, including Yoenis Cespedes, a rookie from Cuba who is being installed in center field.

Crisp, who spent the past two seasons in Oakland, re-signed Jan. 5 with the belief he would be in center, as he was throughout 2011. A little more than a month later, Cespedes, new to American professional baseball, signed the second-biggest contract in A's history: $36 million, over four years.

And now, four weeks into spring training, Crisp is displaced by the new guy. It's a demotion in status, a form of rejection.

"He's disappointed, no doubt about that," manager Bob Melvin says. "And I understand totally.

"I don't envision him being a problem, but he's disappointed. And I understand why. He's a terrific center fielder, and he's being asked to do something that's uncomfortable."

To understand Crisp's predicament, you have to comprehend the significance of playing center field. It's a premium position, hallowed terrain once patrolled by Willie Mays, generally acknowledged as our greatest living ballplayer. The man previously introduced as such, the late Joe DiMaggio, also was a center fielder.

Prestige is inherent to the position, and Crisp has made the effort to earn his.

"I came up as a shortstop, so I had to make a transition to the outfield," he says. "I worked hard at trying to make myself as good as I could be, as quickly as possible.

"This . . . is another challenge where I have to do the same thing."

Crisp expresses no visible fury. He feels a bit of betrayal, a degree of reluctance and undoubtedly some resignation. He had learned how to play center field and made the adjustment smoothly enough to become one of the best.

And now this, ousted by the unproven new guy. It's not unlike a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop being moved to third base to make room for an untested rookie.

There is a part of Crisp, and he conceded this to USA Today, that now regrets signing with the A's. His contract, two years at $14 million, is handsome, and he's respected in the clubhouse. But he has been, in a sense, reassigned.

More to the point, reassigned without any sign of regression as a center fielder.

Melvin says the move was made because it's the simplest solution for the three best outfielders. The starters are going to be newly acquired Josh Reddick, Crisp and Cespedes. Reddick is most natural in right field, with Crisp and Cespedes most comfortable in center.

Because Crisp has played some left field, the A's believe he'll adapt more easily than would Cespedes. The decision is based less on merit than on projecting the trio and the desire to accommodate the new guy.

"The decision was made for the (comfort) of everybody else," Melvin offers.

Crisp, in essence, is a victim of his own versatility, despite his preferences.

"I see myself as an above average outfielder, one of the best center fielders in the game," he says. "I feel I'm a below-average left fielder right now. So I have to work hard to change that. I'm a realist, and I'm pretty good at self-evaluation.

"That said, being (in left field) is not where I want to be -- below average while I'm playing the game. I can deal with 'average,' but right now I feel I'm below average. I have to work hard to improve over there. That's all I can do right now."

He asks if I have more questions. I don't. Relieved, he can now simmer in solitude.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.