The Brewers shook things up behind the plate on Sunday. Jett Bandy has been jettisoned to Class-AAA, and to replace him the Brewers snatched Stephen Vogt off the waiver wire from the Oakland Athletics. Vogt was an All-Star in 2015 and 2016 for the Athletics, partially because the weak Athletics roster had no obvious candidates and Vogt played a shallow position. But Vogt also posted a sharp .256/.322/.424 batting line (105 OPS+) over 1,043 plate appearances in those two seasons.
The Brewers have gotten fine production out of the catcher position, as Bandy and Manny Pina have combined to hit .249/.317/.409, slightly above average for National League catchers (103 Split OPS+ per Baseball-Prospectus). But Bandy’s performance has utterly tanked in June. He was just 2-for-38 with 17 strikeouts this month, a far cry from his ridiculous April (1.010 OPS) or his passable May (.688 OPS). His hot start was nice while it lasted, but it’s clear the other shoe has dropped.
Vogt and Bandy have had almost indistinguishable seasons thus far. Bandy’s line sits at .211/.287/.380; Vogt finished with the Athletics at .217/.287/.357. This could very well be a lateral move, but I love it for the Brewers. Vogt has been substantially better at the plate in June. His excellent plate discipline hasn’t left him, and it has powered him to a .229/.357/.371 line in 15 games this month. Perhaps not All-Star material, but another on-base threat in Milwaukee’s powerful lineup would be a real asset.
Most importantly, the opportunity cost of this move was virtually nil. No prospects are blocked and none were traded away. The only price tag is the money remaining on Vogt’s $2.95 million contract for this season. Additionally, thanks to the late start to his career, Vogt is still arbitration eligible and is under team control until 2020.
Vogt is 32, and even as someone who didn’t receive consistent playing time until later in his career, playing catcher for that long takes a toll on the body. The odds that he rediscovers All-Star form with the Brewers are pretty slim. But Vogt at least has that history to fall back upon. Bandy has never played at a level anywhere near what he showed during his absurdly hot April, and he likely never will again.
I love the fact that the Brewers were ready to pounce when a player like Vogt became available. The cost here is minimal, as Vogt will earn roughly $2 million for the rest of the season. If the Brewers weren’t willing to make that kind of investment to improve the team in an improbable first place season, I’d question ownership’s priorities. Especially considering the Wild Card is looking like it will almost certainly come out of the National League West, with the Rockies leading the Cubs by 7.5 games for the second Wild Card slot, every little bit of improvement the Brewers can get will be critical.
When Oakland waived Vogt, it was a perfect opportunity for the Brewers. Vogt fills a need and has a history of success. Catchers who have hit like Vogt has in the past rarely become available midseason without a steep price. Maybe Vogt will prove to be finished, but the Brewers have nothing to lose by seeing what’s left in the tank.