The Oakland A’s spent much of the offseason building minor upgrades around the diamond to snatch league-average players from free agency in an effort to field a more competitive squad in 2023. How competitive they are is still up for debate, but the A’s should be better than a 102-game losing team in 2022.
Part of that optimism has been tempered by the fact that the A’s will have more depth options around the diamond this coming season, and on Tuesday, they added depth in 32-year-old veteran first baseman Jesús Aguilar. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reported that the deal is worth $300 million through the 2023 season.
Aguilar is coming off a down year with the Marlins and Orioles in 2022, hitting . 235 overall with a . 281 on-base percentage and 86 OPS+ in 129 games. He also hit 16 homers and hit 51.
The year before, Aguilar hit . 261 and . 329 OBP with 22 homers and 91 RBIs for the Marlins. The A’s clearly hope to bounce back to the 2021 numbers.
Seth Brown was the A’s best offensive first baseman last season, finishing the year with a 117 wRC+, meaning he was 17 percent better than the league average. Traded to the Rays, Christian Bethancourt is the A’s second-best option with a wRC+ of 100, right in the league average.
Some fans speculated that meant Bronny would leave via trade, but as I’ve written in the past, I think Brown will stick around for a while to see how the rotation ban affects his numbers. Last season, when he wasn’t transferred, he hit like Freddie Freeman. If this trend continues, his trade value is sure to go up.
According to Baseball Savant, Brown’s best defensive position is left field, and he’s rated slightly below league average in right field (-4 Outs Above Average), center (-1 OAA) and starts (-3 OAA) Level, but making him just 2022 1 OAA left field is better than average.
I think that move more or less solidifies Brown as an outfielder, especially on left, more often.
The logical way to use Aguilar is to have him lined up as a masher against lefties, but he has a reverse split in 2022. Against left-handed pitchers, he hit just .196 with a 57 wRC+, 43 percent below league average. Against righties, he hit ol’ Khris Davis .247 and had a better 96 wRC+, just 4 percent below league average.
Again, the A’s want to bounce back, so in 2021 he’s shooting . 259 against lefties and . 9%.
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If the A’s really want to be exclusive, Rule 5 rookie Ryan Noda could be a candidate for the other half. Noda swings the ball from the left side, and while he’s yet to make his major league debut as a 27-year-old, posed some challenges to shooting in The Show in the Dodgers’ system.
In Triple-A last season, Noda hit .259 with a .395 OBP, walked 16 percent and struck out 28.2 percent. He has some upside and is a very interesting player heading into spring training. The only thing against him is the Rule 5 addendum, which means he must be on the A’s 26-man roster all season or he must be waived and then sent back to the Dodgers if he clears the waivers. If Noda doesn’t go to Oakland, he will likely end up with another organization.
Considering that their top pick, 21-year-old Tyler Soderstrom, has finished the 2022 season at Triple-A in Las Vegas, and will likely be available for him sometime in the second half. The A’s will probably live with that result as they prepare for their major league debut. On the other hand, the A’s have reportedly tried to poach Noda away from the Dodgers in several different trades over the past few years, and now they finally have him.
My best guess on what the A’s think: Noda is talented, but he’s not a sure bet. If he plays well and makes the team, great! If he struggles in spring training, Aguilar will periodically take over first base duties until Soderstrom is deemed ready sometime in the second half of the season.
The key to the whole thing is that before the first player is ready, someone is at first base and bringing in a first baseman other than Noda or Demis Garcia shows that they also want to keep Brown out if they can help. field.
New additions Jace Peterson and Aledmys Díaz have also played some first base in recent seasons, but are better suited to third and second base, respectively. The A’s offseason has been a house of cards based on platoons, utility players and league-average hitters, and bringing in Aguilar seems like a way to ensure Seth Brown stays in the outfield, where he can provide more Advantage.
The downside here is that Dermis Garcia and Jordan Díaz may have fewer chances to play initially when the situation resolves itself. Garcia is a candidate to start in the minors to improve his strikeout rate, which was 44 percent in his rookie campaign, but he could also work if he can reduce those strikeouts Become a DH character. He’s been posting videos on Instagram of him re-practicing his swing, and he’s been teasing a less obvious leg kick. It will be interesting to see how it compares to live pitching in a few weeks.
Dias seems to have been increasing his leg kicks, which can add a lot of power to his offense. He already has the hitting skills the A’s want, but adding power would be a nice bonus. He was able to start the season in Triple-A because he only played 26 games in Vegas and he didn’t have a defensive position. A little more time in Triple-A will allow him to learn about any spot the A’s see him filling.
Aguilar’s fit isn’t obvious, but his tenure in the green and gold could also be short-lived if he doesn’t bounce back. The A’s have depth around the diamond, with plenty of talent looming at bat in the No. 1 base mix.