One of the team’s bright spots the past few years has been Stephen Vogt, the A's lone 2016 All-Star. While Vogt isn't perfect, he’s provided offense at a position devoid of it across the league while admirably handling a young pitching staff. He’s not a great framer or a great defender by any means, but he’s fills an important spot on the roster and overall he fills it well.
In July, the A’s called up Bruce Maxwell. At first it seemed like a one-off sort of deal, the A’s filling a roster spot as Stephen Vogt attended to a family matter. But upon Vogt’s return, and with Josh Phegley being injured throughout the season, Maxwell stayed with the big club. His playing time remained limited, a curious move considering his status as a prospect, but as the year wore on he saw the field with more regularity. He started 17 games in September, ending the year with a .283/.337/.402 slash line, numbers that are more than acceptable for a catcher.
Traditionally, Maxwell and Vogt wouldn’t make sense on the same roster. Catcher is a position that needs rest, and the platoon system is widely used to optimize effectiveness while relieving the primary catcher from the rigors of a constant squat. Maxwell and Vogt bat from the same side, making one redundant if the other is around. Plus, the lighter half of the A’s catcher platoon, Josh Phegley, is pretty solid too. With Vogt and Phegley, the A’s have one of the better catching duos in the league.
The likely breakdown
As it stands, the A's do have a probable plan for their catching situation: Vogt against righties, Phegley against lefties, and Maxwell at AAA Nashville, continuing to better his game while he waits for a full-time role to open.
This is the A's
That alignment would make sense, but so too would giving Maxwell the reins while moving Vogt for whatever value he may have. The A's treatment of Maxwell last year lends credence to the idea that they believe in him as a full time option - he remained at the big league level in spite of Vogt’s continued presence on the roster, possibly indicating their belief that he's ready. Matt McBride’s handedness and situation made him arguably a better fit for the roster, but the A’s kept Maxwell up.
The A’s are known to trade their established players as they age, maximizing their value before they depart from relevance. Vogt should have some good years left and we’d all like him to succeed forever, but if the A’s were to move him, now might be the time. There’s demand around the league an there’s no telling how much longer Vogt will be a valuable asset.
Then, there’s the matter of Maxwell’s development. The A’s willingness to keep him in Oakland late last year is an indication that they feel he’s ready. His bat validated that belief, ending the season with a flash. His glove needs work but there’s reason to be excited - his framing was better than either of the A’s incumbent catchers, and he’s young. His defense could improve to be better that of Vogt, which would make him an all around darling player. Would sending him to AAA be a counterproductive move?
Of course, Maxwell is no sure thing. As Billy Butler circa 2015 will tell you, you shouldn’t fall in love with a player in September, a month where hitters often face inferior opponents outside of contention season.
What to make of Stephen Vogt
Also no sure thing is Vogt’s trade value. There haven’t been rumors around his status as an Athletic, and his surprising security might just be a mismatch is trade value vs. actual value. Some guys just don’t make sense to move as they provide value, but wouldn’t necessarily bring value back via trade.
Beyond that, players are more than stats and Stephen Vogt is one of the better examples of that. In an interview with Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann of The Ringer, Andrew Triggs was effusive in his support of Vogt and what he did for Triggs, the sidearming reliever DFA claim the A’s turned functional starter. The A’s staff took an enormous collective step forward last season after early growing pains, and there’s just no telling how much can be attributed to the guy putting down the signs.
In a recent interview on 95.7 The Game (one which I’m trying to pin down so if you happen to have a link, please comment it!), GM David Forst hinted that Vogt will likely start the season in Oakland. They view him as an integral part of the franchise and while the FO isn’t always honest, direct quotes from a guy that high ranking usually turn out to be the truth.