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2023 Athletics Season in Review: Tony Kemp

Tony Kemp again provided excellent leadership in the clubhouse, but his on-field contributions were lacking in what might be his final season with the A’s

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Oakland Athletics Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

Veteran infielder Tony Kemp just wrapped up his eighth major league season, and fourth with the Athletics. Kemp began his career as a 5th-round pick of the Houston Astros in 2015 and would play four seasons for them before a mid-season trade in 2019 sent Kemp to the Chicago Cubs. He didn’t exactly thrive in Chicago and became an obvious trade chip for them during that offseason. The Athletics would be the beneficiary here.

How acquired?

The A’s traded for Tony Kemp all the way back in early 2020. The club sent first base prospect Alfonso Rivas to the Cubs to bring Kemp into the fold. The trade has worked out pretty well for Oakland as Rivas is on his fourth team since the trade while Kemp has provided leadership in the clubhouse and was a spark plug on the field for Oakland for years.

What were the expectations

As one of the lone remaining members of the latest A’s playoff teams, Kemp was thrown into the leadership role almost by default. Not to be confused as a slugger, a lot of Kemp’s on-field value came from two things: his ability to avoid a strikeout and put the ball in play, and Kemp’s positional flexibility, specifically between second base and left field. With Oakland in rebuilding mode, Kemp might not have been expected to be an everyday player but he would get his at-bats in.

2023 results

It was a tough season in the batter’s box for Kemp in 2023. His 76 OPS+ was the second-lowest of his career in a full major-league season. His batting average fell for the third straight year, with it being below the Mendoza line for much of the entire first half of the season. And as a left-handed hitter you’d have expected him to hit better against righties but instead he had a major reserve split this year, hitting .320 in 50 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers but only .191 versus right-handers in 309 at-bats. And of course, he was eventually replaced at second base permanently by Zack Gelof after the All-Star Break.

There were definitely some bright moments for Kemp too, though. The tough start didn’t get to Kemp as he really picked it up with the bat over the summer months and boosting his BA over the .200 line. His penchant for avoiding strikeouts also continued as he walked more times than he punched out (44 to 40). And his early-season struggles with the bat didn’t carry over to the defense as Kemp made a highlight-reel play seemingly weekly. Add in the 15 stolen bases he swiped and Kemp was a decently productive player for a team that was desperate for anything.

But the best moment of the season for Kemp came in Game 1. Down 1 in the eighth inning on Opening Night, Kemp drove a ball over Mike Trout’s head in center field to bring in Esteury Ruiz as the game-tying run. Kemp would then come around to score the game-winning run and help give the A’s an Opening Day victory over the Angels. For anyone that was there, it was a special game that ended on a high note thanks to Mr. Kemp.

2024 Outlook

Kemp has officially hit the free agent market and it seems like his time in Oakland has come to an unofficial close. Kemp posted a very nice heart-felt goodbye to A’s fans after the season:

And honestly, it’s perfect for both sides. The Athletics are in rebuilding mode and want to give the young kids playing time. And for Kemp, who is probably on the back-side of his playing career, he probably wants another chance at the postseason. He has a ring from the 2017 Astros but wasn’t on the postseason roster, and only has a handful of playoff at-bats for the 2018 Astros. Fans of the Athletics loved Kemp and we’re all hoping he finds lots of success wherever he ends up. Thanks, Tony!