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ALL the Utility Players!

The Oakland A’s reportedly have agreed a two-year, $14.5M contract with Aledmys Díaz, the former Houston Astros utility player.

Yes, you read that right; $14.5M! Whatever has come over A’s owner John Fisher?!

My thoughts on the Jace Peterson signing yesterday provide the context to the spend here. The Frugal Fisher A’s do have payroll space to play with this season, even if the amount of money that involves is very modest relative to the rest of the MLB competition.

Adding Peterson, and projecting Murphy’s 2023 salary to be on another team’s budget, left the A’s Front Office with $20M or so even just to get to the Opening Day payroll at the start of last season.

Not really surprising?

Signing players like Peterson and Díaz was what I expected from this off-season. Referring back to yesterday’s blog again, they’re not exciting signings but they make a lot of sense for a rebuilding team. You are adding experienced Major Leaguers to help an otherwise young group on and off the field, whilst also creating some decent trade assets too.

That both Peterson and Díaz got two-year deals is part of that plan. The extra year is a big incentive for such players to take our money over another team’s offer, creates a bit of stability to the roster and also gives us more options when it comes to future trades compared with a players on just a one-year rental deal.

Díaz has been used as a utility player by the Astros over the past four seasons, although we shouldn’t use that term in a negative way. That’s particularly the case with Díaz as for much of his time in Houston he had an elite infield of Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman ahead of him. His role on the team was to cover for injuries, give the regular starters days off and to provide a league average bat whilst turning his hand to whatever position was needed. In 2022, he played all four infield positions and also spent some time in left field.

He’s the sort of player who doesn’t stand out to fans on a World Series winner, but everyone in the clubhouse appreciates how important they are to a successful team.

V is for Versatility

The versatility fits nicely with similar attributes displayed by fellow newcomer Peterson and Tony Kemp.

What these players bring is the ability for Mark Kotsay to mix-and-match with his line-up and, most especially, creates flexibility depending on the progress of some of our younger players.

As an example, let’s say Kevin Smith finds something with his swing over the off-season. If he shows up well in Spring Training and carries that on into the early Minor League season then that’s the perfect time to bring him back up to the Big Leagues. If we had signed a dedicated third baseman then you have a logjam, but by signing Peterson we have someone who can shift to another position to make space if needed.

Signing a couple of utility players essentially means we can bring some experience into the line-up without blocking a fielding position for a prospect depending on who grasps the opportunity.

We need to talk about Pinder

A few A’s fans on Twitter have reacted to the Díaz signing by wondering why we didn’t just sign Chad Pinder to a new contract? I appreciate that sentiment is coming from a good place; we all have a soft spot for Pinder and have hoped for years that he would come good.

The thing is, sadly, he never has come good. He had a very encouraging campaign in 2018, but it’s been downhill since due to injuries and struggling for any sort of form or consistency. Looking at the basic hitting stats and then FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (that factors in hitting and fielding value), we see the following:

Chad Pinder: 553 Games, .242/.294/.417. 2.5 fWAR.

Aledmys Díaz: 582 Games, .266/.320/.443. 7.7 fWAR.

The batting lines look fairly similar at a superficial level, but when you dig into them and add defence to it too then Díaz has clearly been a much better player.

The Pinder/Peterson comparison is closer:

Jace Peterson: 741 Games, .231/.321/.343. 4.3 fWAR.

The difference here is that nearly all of Pinder’s value came from that 2018 season (2.2 fWAR). Over the last two seasons, Pinder’s fWAR has been precisely zero (0.1 in 2021, -0.1 in 2022) whilst Peterson’s has been 3.2. In fact, Peterson’s 2022 campaign (2.2 fWAR) was the equal of Pinder’s best season.

Taking the emotion out of it, Peterson is an upgrade and Díaz potentially a considerable upgrade. What we all hope for, I’m sure, is that both players produce the goods for the A’s whilst Chad succeeds in a part-time role on another team.

What Next?

Now we’ve got the taste for spending some money, let’s keep the dollars flowing! MLB Trade Rumors sums it up neatly:

“Given the lack of experience on the roster and the defensive fluidity many of the current starters bring to the table, the A’s could still make a play for a free agent at just about any position. There’s also clear room for multiple veteran arms, be they starters or relievers, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see a handful of comparably modest signings in the weeks and months ahead”

Steve Adams on MLB Trade Rumors

“Comparably modest” is a good way to describe the signings made so far and what we should expect between now and the start of Spring Training.

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