With Stephen Vogt’s retirement announcement last week, the A’s only have one impending free agent who plans to continue playing in 2023. Chad Pinder is set to hit the open market for the first time, but the career-long Athletic tells Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle he’d welcome a return to Oakland.
“I don’t know what their plans are — I’m not sure they know,” Pinder said of the A’s front office. “I know they’re doing a good job right now of trying to find the pieces of the puzzle, young guys to be the core next year. And for me, honestly, that’s been fun to watch. Because I remember being part of that at one point. But yeah, I would never discount coming back here. It’s a place that’s special to me.”
A third-round draftee in 2013, Pinder debuted three years later and has been a frequently-utilized utilityman. The 2022 campaign is the fourth in which he’s partaken in more than half the A’s games, and he’s likely to set a new career mark in plate appearances. Pinder has tallied 362 trips to the plate this year, just eight shy of 2019’s figure with a bit more than a week to play. While manager Mark Kotsay has penciled him into the lineup fairly frequently, Pinder has struggled through a down year. He owns a .230/.258/.384 line with a personal-worst 31.5% strikeout rate and a minuscule 3.9% walk rate.
Despite his disappointing numbers at the dish, Kotsay tells Kawahara he’d “love to have Pinder back here.” The 30-year-old has drawn praise from both Kotsay and former Oakland skipper Bob Melvin for his clubhouse presence, and he’s been a decent platoon bat over the course of his career. The right-handed hitter owns a .263/.322/.459 career line against left-handed pitching, although he’s just a .224/.271/.387 hitter versus same-handed opponents.
Pinder has mostly been limited to corner outfield work this season, but he has a fair bit of infield experience as well. He’s split time with lefty-swinging Tony Kemp and Conner Capel in the corners over the past couple of weeks, while Kotsay has somewhat surprisingly turned to Seth Brown in center field. Brown had started just two MLB games in center field coming into this season, but he’s picked up ten starts there this year. In a separate piece, Kawahara writes the A’s are getting a look there to gauge whether Brown could be a candidate for more center field work next season.
It seems unlikely the A’s would want to count on the 30-year-old for anything more than emergency work up the middle. Brown has played almost exclusively first base or the corner outfield in his MLB career, and public defensive metrics were down on his work in the corners this year. It’s hard to envision him playing anything more than a fringy center field. The A’s are nevertheless giving him a run at the position over Cristian Pache, who came over from the Braves in the Matt Olson blockbuster. Pache is on the active roster and is an excellent defensive center fielder, but he’s looked overmatched at the plate at both the MLB and Triple-A levels.
Brown, on the other hand, has had a quietly strong season at the plate. The left-handed hitter owns a .233/.306/.458 line with a team-leading 25 home runs across 517 trips. That’s been driven by an excellent second half of the season. Brown is hitting .261/.358/.554 with 15 long balls since the All-Star Break. Brown is tied for third in the majors in homers since the Break, topped only by Aaron Judge and Manny Machado. That’ll certainly earn him an everyday run next year, even if he seems likelier to return to a corner position. Brown won’t reach arbitration eligibility until after next season and is controllable through 2026.
Another corner outfield spot could belong to Ramón Laureano, who played primarily right field this year after rating poorly in center. Laureano looked like a potential trade candidate, but he had a rough 2022 campaign. Delayed to start the year after a positive performance-enhancing drug test last summer, he hit only .211/.287/.376 over 383 plate appearances. Laureano landed on the injured list a couple of weeks ago with a right hamstring strain, and head trainer Nick Paparesta informed reporters over the weekend that he’s not expected to return this season (via Martín Gallegos of MLB.com). The 28-year-old recently received a platelet-rich plasma injection to address a separate issue in his right hip.
Laureano’s path to free agency was delayed by a year since he was unable to collect MLB service while serving his suspension. He’s now arbitration-eligible through 2025 and will be due a modest raise on this season’s $2.45M salary. The retooling A’s will probably be open to trade offers this winter, but it’s hard to envision another club meeting Oakland’s asking price after Laureano’s rough season.