The Oakland A’s made it official Thursday afternoon, signing catcher Stephen Vogt to a one-year deal. It’s an MLB contract, not a non-roster flyer, so he’s going to be on the team in April.
As feel-good stories go, this is top-shelf. Vogt established himself in the majors with the A’s back in 2013, and spent a half-decade playing in Oakland. He’s a postseason hero, a two-time All-Star, and a legendary fan favorite who earned his own chant from the RF bleacher crew. Bringing him back is undeniably fun.
Perhaps it’s nothing more than that. After all, Vogt’s production has declined to exactly replacement-level over the past two seasons, and he’s battled injuries, and he turned 37 over the winter while recovering from surgery. This might be his final hurrah, and if all goes well then he can be a serviceable backup. The A’s just tore down their roster and traded a few huge stars for prospects, amid plenty of other negative press lately, so a reunion with an old darling is an easy win.
But let’s not write it off as cheap publicity too quickly, because Vogt could have a lot to offer beyond just a happy March headline.
Making this case doesn’t even require any pipe dreams about him bouncing back to former glory. Sure, he was a good hitter as recently as 2019, and we’ve seen plenty of examples of veterans working past injuries to show they still have something left in the tank. Just last summer we watched with our own eyes as Jed Lowrie rose from the ashes to help a contending team.
But let’s not assume any of that, and take Vogt at face value as a replacement-level backup. At the very least, that makes him a roster fit, even if he hits .195 again like last year.
The A’s needed a short-term stopgap catcher to pair with starter Sean Murphy. New prospect acquisition Shea Langeliers isn’t quite ready for the majors yet but might be soon. They have Austin Allen, but this is the third time in 13 months that they’ve acquired somebody to block his questionable glove (after Garcia and Gomes last year), so it might be time to consider his promising bat at other positions. Vogt fills the role as a veteran lefty hitter who can still draw some walks and pop an occasional dinger, and statistically he’s not a downgrade from the backups they had last season.
They could have found other cheap options for this job, but Vogt meets the requirements and they get some intangibles on the side. Many folks in the Athletics Nation community have long hoped he would one day be the A’s future manager, and indeed he’s expressed a desire to manage somewhere after he retires. With his great reputation maybe he could have landed a minor league coaching job today if he’d wanted.
A young clubhouse needs leaders. Sure, they’ve got skipper Mark Kotsay and a whole coaching staff, and there are some veterans remaining like Elvis Andrus and Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder, among others. But Vogt could be elite in this department.
He wasted no time setting the tone, saying the following on Friday, per team insider Martin Gallegos:
“My message is we have an opportunity. I’ve been here and never once said we’re not gonna have a great year. We’re gonna have a great year. It’s what we take with this opportunity that we’re given. There’s a lot of young guys trying to establish themselves now. ...
“We have an opportunity every night to showcase your ability and help this organization win games. The goal every night is to go out and win the game, and we’re gonna do whatever it takes to do that.”
That’s the kind of attitude you want to seek out for your rebuilding clubhouse, and he brings it in abundance. This season might include a lot of rookie growing pains and a lot of losses, so a positive mindset will be crucial. Whether it’s fighting for more wins than expected, or staying focused on long-term development during a frustrating campaign, those words by Vogt are always the right message.
His new teammates are already expressing their enthusiasm. Pitcher Sean Manaea said the following, via Matt Kawahara of the S.F. Chronicle:
“Super excited. I just talked to him. ... He was up when I was a rookie in ‘17 too and he’s always been one of the coolest dudes in my opinion in pro ball. So super happy to have him back.”
Infield prospect Kevin Smith chimed in on Twitter, referring to Vogt’s walk-off hit in Game 2 of the 2013 ALDS:
“So pumped he’s on our team and I get to learn from this guy! I remember watching this game in high school thinking how sick it must have been to get that knock. Glad you’re in Green & Gold @SVogt1229”
The feel-good story is only the beginning, and if that’s all the A’s get out of this, then that’s fine. Happy thoughts might be in short supply the next few months, and it’ll be fun to see Vogt wearing green-and-gold again, and to hear his name ringing out around the Coliseum stands.
But it can be more than that. He’s a sensible fit for the current roster, and he’s a perfect fit for this summer’s clubhouse, regardless of whether they turn out to be a last-place doormat or an upstart contender. A positive outcome could involve him producing a bit of value on the field at a position of need, while also captaining a young squad as an unofficial player/coach, which begins to cross the line from public relations stunt to legitimately useful player.
Will any of that come to pass? We’ll see, but the upside is there, even if some of it is unquantifiable. It’s not even difficult to imagine. All you have to do is close your eyes, and repeat these words to yourself:
I believe in Stephen Vogt.