The Oakland A’s agreed to a one-year, $4 million contract with first baseman Yonder Alonso on Friday, the team announced. Alonso had been eligible for salary arbitration, and Friday was the deadline to choose whether to tender him a commitment or let him go to free agency. The A’s decided to hold on to their 1B, and went a step further by hammering out the terms and getting the whole deal done.
The A’s have a few other arbitration-eligible players — Sonny, Vogt, Khrush, and Hendriks -- but of course all of those stars were tendered contracts. We’ll learn more about the dollar amounts over the next few weeks when they agree to specific terms with Oakland.
Alonso, on the other hand, was not as obvious of a decision. His 2016 stats were awful in his first year the the A’s, and in fact he graded out slightly below replacement-level on both WAR scales. His plate discipline remained solid but he didn’t hit for any average or power (7 HR), and the result was a weak line of .253/.316/.367 that ranked as arguably the worst batting line of any regular first baseman in the bigs (88 wRC+, 91 OPS+). His defense also received heavily negative marks on the advanced metrics.
Despite all that, though, the A’s are signing up for a second try. Alonso did show signs of life at the plate as the year went on, and beginning June 1 he posted a 104 wRC+ the rest of the season -- still only decent, but at least an improvement. On defense, those negative metrics were outliers in an otherwise positive career, which makes it easier to take them with a grain of salt for now. Besides, like with catchers, first basemen don’t get their whole story told through UZR and DRS, as they leave out his biggest strength with the glove: digging wild throws from his teammates.
Alonso plays in an infield populated by the likes of Marcus Semien, Jed Lowrie, and Ryon Healy, and that means he gets a lot of errant throws sent in his general direction. The A’s have wilder infield arms than most teams, which means they have more to gain from a 1B who can corral them. And indeed, Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle puts Alonso’s defense first on the list of reasons why he was brought back, noting that his teammates appreciated it.
Another reason to retain Alonso is as a stopgap to buy some time for prospects who are close but not quite ready. Joe Stiglich of CSN reports that the A’s don’t want to rush top prospect Matt Chapman, who reached Triple-A last fall. Chapman looks like the third baseman of the future, and many fans would be happy to see him in Oakland as quickly as possible — even Opening Day, if he repeats his monster Cactus League performance from last spring. But he still has things to work on (like cutting down his strikeouts), and the A’s will show some patience.
Ultimately, when Chapman does come up (second half of 2017? 2018?), the presumed result is that Healy will move across the diamond to 1B. But Alonso sticking around at 1B means that Healy can remain at 3B for now, where he’s stretched but playable, and Chapman can develop in the minors at his own pace rather than rushing up to fill a hole in the bigs. If the team wanted a veteran stopgap anyway, then keeping the one they already had and liked makes perfect sense.
Grade: C ... I was personally leaning toward non-tendering Alonso, and so was the rest of the community, but keeping him is fine. I really do like his glove, especially on the worst defensive squad in the world, and I can see the logic that he is even more valuable to a team with particularly wild infield arms. While his bat looked weak, he does still carry a career track record as an above-average hitter and he’ll only be 30 years old, so it’s not impossible that he could bounce back to at least being adequate at the plate. And he’s a lefty swinger, which the A’s still need a lot more of.
I probably would have non-tendered him myself, but not adamantly, and I don’t mind that Oakland paid to keep him. Besides, things like the statement in the following tweet make it exceptionally easy to like Alonso, whose love of the A’s is by all accounts real and not just lip service:
Yonder Alonso is very happy to be back with the A's, he says via text: pic.twitter.com/3qctmTnjdW— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) December 2, 2016
(h/t Susan Slusser with the original news break this morning.)
Extra link: Alonso celebrates returning to the A’s by ... hanging out with former teammate Danny Valencia, one of his best friends. (John Hickey, Bay Area News Group)