OAKLAND — What an emotional nine innings it must have been for Stephen Vogt on Wednesday night.
Before that game, A’s general manager David Forst sat down with Vogt and broke the news that he would be designated for assignment, essentially ending the catcher’s four-year tenure in green and gold.
Vogt kept the news to himself as the A’s took the field against the Astros, not wanting to be a distraction to his teammates. It wasn’t until Thursday morning that the A’s publicly announced the move to cut ties with Vogt, who arrived in a low-profile trade from Tampa Bay as journeyman in 2013 and proceeded to etch out an unlikely legacy for himself in an Oakland uniform.
“It’s just one of those things I kind of felt coming for a while, but obviously it’s never easy,” Vogt said in a media conference call Thursday morning. “It’s something I understand. I don’t like it, but I understand how the game works. It hit (his wife) Alyssa and I very hard. It’s a place we love, (where) we grew up together and watched our family grow, not only as family but a team and an organization.”
The A’s called up Bruce Maxwell from Triple-A Nashville on Thursday morning to share the catcher’s job with Josh Phegley, the latest move to signal the youth movement the front office is ushering in. That led to Vogt being designated for assignment. The A’s have seven days to trade or release him, though it’s very possible another team claims him off waivers first and assumes what’s left of his $2.9 million salary for 2017.
Vogt addressed reporters after Wednesday night’s game without dropping a hint of the news he’d been given earlier in the day. Many teammates stuck around late after the game to say their goodbyes, and others were texting him Thursday morning.
Vogt, an enormously popular player with fans who earned two All-Star nods with the A’s and delivered a walk-off hit in a 2013 postseason game against Detroit, was the second longest-tenured Athletic after reliever Sean Doolittle. He and the other veterans are well aware of the A’s willingness to cut ties with franchise cornerstones if it means giving a chance for a younger player.
Still, the sadness was apparent in Vogt’s voice as he addressed reporters.
“They’re moving on. No ill will toward them or harsh feelings,” he said. “It’s part of the business. I beat the odds. I stuck around for four years. I got my degree, so to speak, in Oakland.”
Manager Bob Melvin forged a tight relationship with Vogt, both because of his own background as a catcher and the kind of person Vogt was and what his leadership meant to the A’s.
“For a guy that was a career minor leaguer for a while, once he got here, he took advantage of the opportunity to be in the big leagues as well as anybody I’ve seen,” Melvin said. “He definitely made an impact here, not only with us in the clubhouse, but the media, the fans, everybody.”
Forst praised Vogt, saying “no one exemplifies the spirit and heart of those playoff teams we had more than Stephen.”
Forst also commended Vogt for all of his community and charity work. But Forst referenced the other moves the A’s have made with an eye toward the future.
“It was emotional and he was disappointed, but he wasn’t surprised,” Forst said. “I don’t think anyone on this call here, or who was watched how the season has gone, would be surprised by this.”
Vogt hit just .217 with four homers and 20 RBI in 54 games this season, and he also struggled throwing base stealers out, to the point that the right-handed hitting Phegley was beginning to draw more starts against right-handed starters.
“I struggled with some things mentally on my own,” Vogt said. “I wasn’t mentally strong enough, focusing on results more so than how I felt. That led down kind of a negative path. I know I’ll catch on with somebody else and turn this thing around.”
Infielder Adam Rosales, who has played alongside Vogt over two separate stints with the A’s, took the news hard.
“For me, it’s a sad day,” Rosales said. “To see a guy like Stephen Vogt go, obviously he’s a great baseball player. But I think more important for me, the intangibles he brought to the organization, the leadership skills, the things he taught me on and off the field. He’s just a good example to everybody. He brought life into the organization.”