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It’s time to talk about Stephen Vogt

And it’s not a fun conversation.

Oakland Athletics v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Arguably the worst story of the year has been that of Stephen Vogt, 2016 All-Star and 2017 geriatric (at least thus far). He’s a fan favorite because he’s awesome, he came to the A’s in just such an A’s-like way, and he’s been damn good for his entire tenure. And now he looks bad, like a 32 year old catcher, feeling his age.

Perhaps more damning than Vogt’s .205/.222/.333 line is the A’s quick hook on his playing time. We’re barely a month into the 2017 campaign and there seems to be a mutual understanding that Vogt can’t handle the workload he did just a year ago. That perhaps shows the team feels his slow start is more than a small sample fluke, possibly an admission that he’s really lost something from last year. Catching is hard on the body, and as catchers age, they’re bound to deteriorate faster than players at other positions.

Vogt has always been an excellent early season hitter which makes a whole bunch of sense. When he’s fresh he’s been excellent, and it makes sense his game would decline as the year progresses. His poor start this year isn’t likely to get better as he wears down, and it’s affected both sides of the ball. With both the bat and the glove, his on-field production has been minimal.

If Vogt really is deteriorating as fast as it appears he has thus far (something we can’t conclude just yet) then the A’s have a problem. Fortunately, they might have a solution.

Bruce Maxwell, catcher of the future and possibly present

As Vogt’s career starts to close, Bruce Maxwell is just getting started. An up and coming A’s team prompted to move Vogt as the sun sets on his career could give Maxwell the perfect testing ground to start his. He’d get regular at bats without the pressure of needing to perform to keep his job - if the A’s are bad and Maxwell starts slowly like he did last year, there’s no rush to find a better alternative for the good of the team. The point is moot.

There’s the possibility of keeping three catchers around could work in theory, but certainly would present some issues. There are advantages to having three catchers around. Bob Melvin would have flexibility to change catchers mid-game, each catcher (particularly Vogt) would stay fresher, and Maxwell’s transition to the bigs would be less dramatic.

It’s not seamless though, as the already constrained roster would have to find one more spot to keep Maxwell around when Phegley returns. It could delay Maxwell’s development and above all, it’s just unlikely to happen.

So what do the A’s have in Maxwell? And what do they have if Maxwell stays in AAA?

Maxwell is probably ready for the bigs, but let’s not forget that his AAA experience isn’t all that vast. He’s played a total of 65 games there with solid but not breaking down the door results. Giving him a full time job wouldn’t be shocking, but it’s not a slam dunk either. He’s off to a slow-ish start at both AAA (106 wRC+) and his very tiny Oakland sample (41 wRC+), but showed an ability to handle the big leagues in his cup of coffee last year (103 wRC+).

We’re still early in the season, so Vogt deserves a chance to turn things around. Maxwell is probably ready but not forcing the team’s hand, and Vogt deserves some more time. But how long should his leash be?

What does Vogt have left?

The hard truth of the matter is that Vogt is unlikely to be a piece of the A’s next competitive team. At 32 and some change, he’s well into the back half of his career. The 2nd half of his 2016 season was subpar and he’s starting to show his age more and more.

But Vogt is more than just an aging catcher. He’s well beloved by all parts of the fanbase, from the bleacher creatures to the stat lovers to the cynics (like me). Whenever the time comes for Vogt to move on from being the A’s everyday catcher, it’ll be sad. And while ultimately the A’s need to concern themselves with winning, the A’s can make concessions for fan favorites in years where the playoffs are out of the picture. Granted, that’s hopefully not the case this year but Vogt’s leash is certainly team dependent.

The fan-base's love for Vogt isn’t misplaced. He’s been an All-Star for two straight years and while part of that is being the A’s requisite lone rep who gets seven seconds of air time, he’s been a fine player.

His defensive stats leave much to be desired, hence Phegley’s increased playing time this year. He’s one of the worst framers in the league and runner have taken bases repeatedly. And yet, many of the A’s pitchers have been effusive in their praise for veteran catcher. From Michael Baumann’s fabulous piece on Vogt at The Ringer:

“It’s a group of young guys in the rotation, and he controls it really well,” Cotton said. “As young guys we lean on him a lot to be that father figure for the starting pitchers, and I feel like he’s doing a great job of it.”

The A’s pitching staff has been rather delightful this year, with a number of pitchers exceeding their expectations. Andrew Triggs has looked like an ace, Kendall Graveman has taken a step forward, and Jesse Hahn has been resurrected from the reclamation pile.

Vogt’s value might not be tangible and with the A’s looking towards the future behind a young pitching staff, they may be best served to cultivate it with Vogt’s veteran presence even if his bat doesn’t rebound and his defense continues to be sub-par.

So, something to keep an eye on and something to mentally prepare for. I’m not sure if there’s a more liked Athletic in recent history; the fanbase’s love for Vogt seems to be widespread. Sadly, his career might be winding down and is the curse with almost all players, it’s unlikely to end like we want it to. Prepare yourself, as it might be in the not so distant future.

What should the A’s do with Stephen Vogt?