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Athletics Notes: Kemp, Vogt, Irvin, Puk

The 2022 season has been a disappointing one for A’s second baseman/outfielder Tony Kemp, who’s followed up last year’s .279/.382/.418 slash with a flimsy .235/.308/.335 output through a career-high 554 plate appearances. Kemp, due a raise on his $2.25MM salary in what will be his final trip through the arbitration process, seemingly acknowledged his status as a potential trade or non-tender candidate, telling Matt Kawahara of the San Francisco Chronicle that he hopes he’ll get the chance to rebound with Oakland next season.

“I want to be with this team,” Kemp said yesterday. “…going into my last year of arbitration I just think that being able to be part of this team would be something special.”

A’s skipper Mark Kotsay gave Kemp a vote of confidence, lauding the 30-year-old’s improved second-half play and touting him as a potential clubhouse leader for the 2023 team. Kemp, to his credit, is hitting .278/.343/.429 in the season’s second half, but the A’s have been focused on shedding payroll since last offseason began; time will tell whether Kemp becomes another step toward that end.

Kemp’s salary next season will by no means break the bank — likely falling shy of the $4MM range. As I noted when previewing Oakland’s upcoming offseason, the A’s don’t have a single dollar committed to next year’s roster at the moment, with Kemp, catcher Sean Murphy, outfielder Ramon Laureano, righty Paul Blackburn and perhaps lefties A.J. Puk and Cole Irvin (depending on this year’s Super Two cutoff) standing as the team’s notable arbitration-eligible players. (Murphy, who drew ample interest prior to the summer trade deadline, figures to generate plenty of interest again this offseason.)

One player who assuredly won’t be back — at least in a playing capacity — is veteran catcher Stephen Vogt, who announced late last month that he’d retire at season’s end. A ten-year veteran with a unique career arc and future managerial aspirations, Vogt seems far from done in with baseball as a whole. Whether the next steps for him are to pursue coaching/managing, front-office work or even a career in the broadcast booth remain to be determined, but the Chronicle’s John Shea spoke to Kotsay, GM David Forst and broadcaster Ken Korach about why Vogt would excel at any of the three.

Kotsay praised Vogt’s ability to have tough conversations with teammates — “telling guys things they need to hear, not things they want to hear” — and cited recent examples of Vogt doing just that. Beyond Kotsay’s own belief that Vogt has a future in managing, he noted to Shea that Brewers manager Craig Counsell, who managed Vogt in 2017, has remarked in the past that Vogt could eventually even be his successor in Milwaukee.

Forst, too, noted Vogt’s leadership traits and “ability to connect with everybody in the clubhouse,” adding that such traits are also important on the front-office side of the game. Forst compared Vogt’s skill set to that of former A’s outfielder and current Phillies general manager Sam Fuld, adding that Vogt will quite likely “be good at whatever he chooses to do.”

The 28-year-old Irvin name-checked Vogt after yesterday’s game, telling reporters that he’s “learned a lot” from Vogt, specifically with regard to his preparation for each start (link via Martin Gallegos of MLB.com). Irvin’s six shutout innings Tuesday dropped his ERA back under 4.00 — a personal goal of his after he’d struggled through a rough patch over the past month or so. The lefty voiced pride in making 30-plus starts in consecutive seasons and, after finishing this year with a career-high 181 innings, noted that reaching 200 frames will be a goal in 2023.

At this point, any A’s player with some success and a potential arbitration salary will draw his share of trade speculation, but Kotsay spoke glowingly of Irvin’s increased role as a leader on the pitching staff and spoke of him as an important piece to the 2023 roster: “I’m looking forward to seeing him again next year.”

Oakland’s acquisition of Irvin didn’t garner much attention at the time, but sending cash to the Phillies following the left-hander’s DFA in late January of 2021 has proven to be one of the best quiet acquisitions the A’s have made in recent years. Over the past two seasons, Irvin has started 62 games and pitched to a combined 4.11 ERA in 359 1/3 innings. The 2022 season saw Irvin make slight improvements in his strikeout rate, walk rate, swinging-strike rate, called-strike rate and opponents’ chase rate over last year’s levels.

Irvin will head into the offseason with two years, 120 days (2.120) of Major League service time. That’ll put him right on the Super Two bubble, potentially setting him up for four trips through the arbitration process, rather than the standard three. The Super Two cutoffs over the last three seasons have been 2.116, 2.125 and 2.115, respectively, so Irvin would’ve made the cut in two of the three seasons. The 27-year-old Puk, who’s saved four games and piled up 20 holds while pitching to a 3.12 ERA in 66 1/3 innings of relief, is in a similar boat with 2.124 years of service time.

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