A’s Finally Get on the Board, Sign Jace Peterson as Veteran Jack of All Trades

Jace Peterson
Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The A’s have made no secret of their intentions to spend as little as possible. Per Spotrac, they entered the offseason with a grand total of zero guaranteed dollars of active payroll, outside of arbitration and pre-arb salaries. Of the 39 players on their 40-man roster, only four are arb-eligible, and Tony Kemp, with all five years and 98 days of big league service time, is by far the most-tenured player on the team. They’ve traded nearly every productive major leaguer over the past calendar year for prospects and players making the minimum. But at the Winter Meetings, Oakland finally made its first signings of the offseason, agreeing to terms on two-year deals with utility player Jace Peterson and former Astros utility man Aledmys Díaz, the latter worth $15 million.

Originally drafted by the Padres in 2011, the 32-year old Peterson has made plenty of stops throughout his career, from Atlanta to New York and Baltimore; he spent the last three seasons with the Brewers before becoming a free agent this offseason. In 2022, he appeared in 112 games, starting 81 of them. Utilized almost exclusively as a platoon player, he racked up 293 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers, only stepping into the box 35 times against lefties. His primary platoon partner this year was Mike Brosseau, who posted a 117 wRC+ in 160 PA, about two-thirds of which came against southpaws. Peterson came up as a second baseman but has spent the bulk of his career as a super-utility player, in most seasons making starts at first, second, third, and both corner outfield spots. This year with the Brewers, he primarily played third base, making 67 starts there as everyday players took the bulk of playing time at the other positions he has usually manned.

Peterson’s biggest strength on the offensive side has been his disciplined approach at the plate. During his three-season stretch with the Brewers, he walked in 12.4% of plate appearances, and his 24.6% chase rate ranked in the 90th percentile among major league hitters, placing him in company of Joey Votto and Mookie Betts. He’s affectionately earned the nickname “On Base Jace” (he’s had three postseason plate appearances and drew walks in all of them) and slashed .238/.337/.373 with a 98 wRC+ during his time in Milwaukee. While his raw power grades out at about average, he has never hit double-digit homers and has a below-average ISO for his career, largely because he hits more ground balls than average and doesn’t pull the ball at a high rate. Despite these middling offensive numbers, he’ll likely slot into the heart of an Oakland lineup that had just two hitters with at least 300 PA and an above average wRC+, and with backstop Sean Murphy likely on the move in the near future, that list is cut to just Seth Brown.

Despite being a league-average hitter who only started half of last season’s games, Peterson was still worth 2.2 WAR, by far the most of his career and a highly respectable number even for an everyday starter. One of the biggest reasons for that was his defense, especially at the hot corner. In just 615 innings at third base, Defensive Runs Saved credited him with +11 runs (tied for fourth most among third basemen), and Statcast’s Outs Above Average also viewed his work as excellent, with a +7 figure. Statcast’s new arm strength tracker grades him as slightly above average as well, with his average throw speed of 86.5 mph edging out the league average for third basemen by a tick (and 5 mph above the average for second basemen). DRS and OAA view Peterson as roughly an average defender at every other position he’s played throughout his career, but they agree that his work at third base was excellent in 2022.

Another underrated component to Peterson’s game is his speed. With an average Statcast sprint speed of 28.5 feet per second in 2022, he placed in the 81st percentile of all baserunners, but that figure also placed him third-fastest among all 32-year olds, trailing only speedsters Jon Berti and Kevin Kiermaier. Not only does he have raw speed, but he also has demonstrated strong decision making abilities on the base paths. In his three seasons with the Brewers, he stole 23 bases and was only caught twice, and throughout his career, he’s advanced an extra base on singles and doubles on half of his opportunities, far surpassing the MLB average of 40%. These factors have combined to make him elite by advanced baserunning metrics; his +9.5 BaseRuns over the past two seasons rank him 15th in baseball during that timeframe, despite nearly everyone else on the leaderboard having far more playing time.

Peterson and his excellent versatility make him a useful signing for a team that, while completely devoid of star power, has plenty of young players with little major league experience. Toward the end of last season, the Athletics gave extended tryouts to a variety of inexperienced position players wearing Spring Training jersey numbers. On September 24, multi-hit efforts from rookies Vimael Machín, Conner Capel, and Jordan Diaz even led them to double-digit runs against Jacob deGrom and the 100-win Mets. As these players and many others in the 40–45 FV bucket battle for everyday starting jobs on a non-competitive team, Peterson gives manager Mark Kotsay options to plug and play a solid veteran bat anywhere in the field as newer players rotate in and out of the lineup. Alongside Díaz (who also plays every position but with a less platoon-heavy offensive profile), he can fill a role similar to the one that now-free agent Chad Pinder provided the A’s for the past half decade. Pinder is right-handed and will likely find a destination as a lefty masher, but his sneaky pop and past experience at every position except catcher gave the Athletics a consistent utility player on the roster.

So who will Peterson be pairing with? Here are the A’s players hoping to establish themselves in the major leagues whose role he can help to complement, either as a platoon buddy, fill-in on a day off, or as a replacement in the case of injury or minor league option:

Athletics Young Position Players
Name Bat Hand Positions Quick Description
Jonah Bride R C, 1B, 2B, 3B High walk, low K contact profile
Cal Stevenson L LF, CF, RF Fast CF with patience and track record of performance
Yonny Hernandez B 2B, 3B, SS Versatile infielder with speed and no power
Ernie Clement R 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, LF Omnipositional with plus speed, but 49 wRC+ in 312 MLB PA
Conner Capel L RF Solid all-around offensive profile, 4th OF type
Vimael Machín L 3B Poor 3B defense, solid discipline, struggles vs. breaking balls
Jordan Diaz R 1B, 2B, 3B Defensively limited free swinger, makes a lot of contact
Dermis Garcia R 1B Above average raw, tons of swing and miss

The 2023 Athletics won’t be contenders. They won’t win 95 games; they may not even win 59. For fans, players, and the front office alike, the upcoming season is an experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. But every team needs the steady presence of consistent veterans who can relieve one rookie one day and another youngster the next. In Peterson, the A’s have found the ultimate supporting presence to their extremely young and inexperienced squad, and he may very well be the difference maker in one of many players’ future success stories.

Kyle is a FanGraphs contributor who likes to write about unique players who aren't superstars. He likes multipositional catchers, dislikes fastballs, and wants to see the return of the 100-inning reliever. He's currently a college student studying math education, and wants to apply that experience to his writing by making sabermetrics more accessible to learn about. Previously, he's written for PitcherList using pitch data to bring analytical insight to pitcher GIFs and on his personal blog about the Angels.

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1 year ago

This is downright depressing. What’s the point? Per Roster Resource, once Sean Murphy gets himself traded it only looks like they one position player who we think will be on the next good A’s team (Langeliers). I don’t think they need to actively subtract players with little trade value but actual team value like Tony Kemp or Seth Brown. But the least they could do is not actively try and block Zack Gelof and Jordan Diaz.

There’s got to be a better way to spend money than this. Maybe they could buy a prospect off the D-Backs by taking Bumgarner or something, from the Angels by taking Rendon, or from the Yankees by taking Hicks or Donaldson.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

This and signing Aledmys Diaz only make sense for the A’s if they really think they’ll be valuable pieces to flip to a contender mid-year. But I agree they shouldn’t do so if it means blocking someone who might turn into a valuable big leaguer.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’ve always been surprised that something which happens all the time in NBA, Bad Contract + draft picks for nothing, doesn’t happen in MLB nearly at all, especially with most owners allergic to the luxury tax line. Imagine the Yankees trading Hicks, Donaldson, and some middling prospects to the A’s for nothing. They can then turn around and use that for Correa or Rodon. And A’s can pretend they’re spending while telling their fans these fresh prospects will be part of future.

1 year ago
Reply to  baubo

A lot of front offices see that (rightfully) as short-sighted, but Arte Moreno had his front office to do that with the Zack Cozart contract. So I’d be really surprised if more front offices with strict budgets didn’t do that as well.

I don’t think the Yankees are trying to get under the tax line this season so maybe that’s a bad example, but the Angels, Reds, and D-Backs ownership have done something like this at one point or another.

1 year ago
Reply to  baubo

1. Bad contracts are worse for good NBA teams than good MLB teams.
2. Bad contracts are less worse for bad NBA teams than bad MLB teams.

1 is about how harsher the luxury tax is in NBA.
Brooklyn Nets went $33M over the cap and paid $98M luxury tax.
New York Mets went $69M over the cap and paid $30M luxury tax.

2 is about the salary floor in NBA.
NBA had the minimum team salary of $101M in a league with average payroll of $135M.
9 MLB teams ran a smaller payroll than NBA salary floor despite the average team payroll being slightly higher ($140M).

Given that trades are more likely to happen when two parties value the same thing differently, you could expect more trades of bad contracts in NBA than MLB.

But more importantly,

0. MLB does not allow teams to trade draft picks*.
(with the exception of competitive-balance picks which are 31th pick at best, but the teams that have competitive-balance picks aren’t the ones that are packaging bad contracts with them to get under the luxury tax threshold)

Last edited 1 year ago by tung_twista
1 year ago
Reply to  tung_twista

There’s a reason why in my example I used prospects. Because of the minor league system, prospects in MLB is the equivalent of draft picks in the NBA.

You are right that the NBA punishes people who go over cap/tax lines than MLB, but that’s irrelevant to the idea that every MLB team has a self-imposed cap. Even Steve Cohen has one (just very, very high). And therefore any bad salary means that’s less money to spend on someone good.

As for bad teams, just look at the article we’re posting under. If the A’s are willing to pay money to utility players to market value that brings them no closer to contention, why can’t they use that same money for an overpriced player who also brings them no closer to contention. Except the latter comes with a prospect that may help you. All teams in MLB spend some modicum of money, even if that money doesn’t mean anything in terms of helping them compete.

1 year ago
Reply to  baubo

And, for that matter, probably brings them more name recognition and thus more ticket sales. Jace Peterson does not sell tickets. Madison Bumgarner and Avisail Garcia might, and Josh Donaldson definitely would. Heck, they could take Josh Donaldson for virtually no prospect return at all and I’d like this better than signing these guys, because at least it is fan service.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Avisail Garcia sells tickets? Come on.

1 year ago
Reply to  baubo

Prospects aren’t quite the equivalent to draft picks. With a draft pick, I can choose freely with no “second party” to veto the transaction.

There is no irrelevancy in what tung_twista is trying to say. It’s more of a matter of degree than yes/no.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think Oakland made both these deals planning to trade these players this year at the deadline . They figured that at the rate FA’s are getting paid this year, If Jace and Diaz hold serve and perform at league average, they will get solid hauls for them, with the additional year of control increasing their trade values (*if they perform*).

Once they trade Murphy, Langeliers will be catcher w Bride as backup, Seth Brown can float around and they have openings at LF/RF/1B/DH. Plenty of AB’s to go around, Diaz will get his shot. Gelof only has 10 games at AAA, so by the time he is ready/A’s done manipulating his service time, it will be close enough to the trade deadline that it won’t affect his developmental timeline much.

I actually like this approach for rebuilding teams, as although you take on more risk with a 2 year deal than a 1 year, you also massively increase your return than if you were flipping rentals.