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The Oakland A's have spent most of the off-season making slight upgrades around the diamond to grab league average players off the free agent market in an effort to field a more competitive team in 2023. How competitive they'll be is still up for debate, but the A's should be better than the 102-loss 2022 squad. 

Part of the reason for that tempered optimism is that the A's are going to have more depth options around the diamond this coming season, and on Tuesday they added to that depth in 32-year-old veteran first baseman Jesús Aguilar. Mark Feinsand of MLB.com is reporting that the deal is worth $3MM for the 2023 season. 

Aguilar is coming off a down year in 2022 with the Marlins and Orioles, batting a combined .235 with a .281 on-base percentage and an 86 OPS+ in 129 games. He also slugged 16 homers and drove in 51. 

The year before, Aguilar batted .261 with a .329 OBP with the Marlins, with 22 home runs and 91 rbi. The A's are obviously hoping for a bounce back to those 2021 numbers. 

Seth Brown was the A's best first baseman offensively last season, finishing the year with a 117 wRC+, meaning that he was 17% above league average. Christian Bethancourt, who was traded to the Rays, was the A's second-best option with a 100 wRC+, or right at league average. 

Some fans have speculated that this means Brownie is on his way out via trade, but as I have written in the past, I think that Brown sticks around for a little while to see how the shift ban impacts his numbers. Last season when he wasn't being shifted, he was hitting like Freddie Freeman. If that trend continues, then his trade value would certainly go up.

Brown's best defensive position is left field according to Baseball Savant, who graded him slightly below league average in right field (-4 Outs Above Average), center (-1 OAA), and at first (-3 OAA), but had him just better than average in left field with 1 OAA in 2022. 

I think that this move more or less solidifies Brown as an outfielder, particularly in left, on a more regular basis. 

The logical way to use Aguilar would be to platoon him as a masher against lefties, but he had reverse splits in 2022. Against left-handed pitchers, he hit just .196 with a 57 wRC+, 43% below league average. Against righties, he hit the ol' Khris Davis .247 and had a much better 96 wRC+, just 4% below league average.

Again, the A's are hoping for a bounce back, so in 2021, he hit .259 against lefties with a 114 wRC+ (14% above league average), and .261 against right-handers, 9% better than league average. 

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If the A's do want to platoon him, then Rule 5 draftee Ryan Noda would be the likely candidate for the other half of that mix. Noda swings it from the left side, and while he hasn't made his big league debut entering his age 27 season, being in the Dodgers system presents some challenges to getting a shot in The Show. 

In Triple-A last season, Noda hit .259 with a .395 OBP, walked at an outstanding 16% clip, and struck out 28.2% of the time. He has some upside and is a very interesting player heading into spring training. The only knock on him is the Rule 5 attachment, which means that he has to be on the A's 26-man roster all season or else he has to be put on waivers, then offered back to the Dodgers if he clears waivers. Noda would likely end up in another organization if he doesn't make it to Oakland.

The A's may be ok with that outcome, given that their number one prospect, 21-year-old Tyler Soderstrom, finished the 2022 campaign in Triple-A Las Vegas and could be ready for his big-league debut sometime in the second half. On the other hand, the A's have reportedly tried to pry Noda away from the Dodgers in a couple of different trades in years past, and now they finally have him. 

My best guess as to the A's thinking is this: Noda is talented, but he's not a sure bet. If he hits well and makes the team, great! If he struggles during spring training, then Aguilar is there to take over first base duties on a pretty regular basis until Soderstrom is deemed ready sometime during the second half of the season. 

The key to this whole thing is having someone at first base until the top prospect is ready, and bringing in a first baseman other than Noda or Dermis Garcia signals that they also would like to keep Brown in the outfield if they can help it. 

New additions Jace Peterson and Aledmys Díaz have also played some first base in recent seasons, but are better suited for third base and second base, respectively. The A's off-season is a house of cards, built on platoons, utility players, and league average bats, and bringing in Aguilar appears to be one way to ensure that Seth Brown stays in the outfield where he can offer a little more upside.

The downside here is that fewer at-bats may be available initially for Dermis Garcia and Jordan Díaz while this situation plays itself out. Garcia is a candidate to start in the minors to work on his strikeout rate, which sat at 44% in his rookie campaign, but he could also work his way into a DH role if he can cut down on those strikeouts. He has been posting videos of him re-working his swing on Instagram, and he has been teasing a less pronounced leg kick. It'll be interesting to see how that looks against live pitching in a few weeks. 

Díaz has seemingly been adding to his leg kick, which could add a lot of power to his approach. He already has the bat-to-ball skills the A's want, but adding power would be a nice bonus. The reason he could be headed to Triple-A at the beginning of the season is that he has only played in 26 games in Vegas, and he also doesn't have a defensive position. A little more time in Triple-A would allow him to learn whichever position the A's see him filling. 

The fit for Aguilar isn't an obvious one, but his tenure in the green and gold may also be short-lived if he doesn't bounce back. The A's have depth around the diamond, there are plenty of talented bats looming in the first base mix.