How the A's newest slugger overhauled his approach

February 1st, 2023

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos' A's Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

OAKLAND -- ’s first endeavor into free agency did not come at an ideal time.

After enjoying several seasons as a high-level run producer with the Brewers and Marlins, Aguilar entered his contract year in 2022 looking to set himself up nicely for a potential multiyear deal. Instead, he endured arguably the worst statistical full season of his career, slashing .235/.281/.379 with 16 home runs, an 86 wRC+ and 86 OPS+ in a year that saw him finish with the Orioles after getting released by the Marlins in late August.

Knowing his suitors would be limited this offseason, Aguilar was searching for a team that could provide an opportunity to bounce back. He found that ideal landing spot with the A’s, signing a one-year, $3 million contract last week.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for me to have a good year over there,” Aguilar said during a Zoom call with reporters on Friday. “I think they have a good combination of veterans and young guys. I just have to go there and do my job.”

Aguilar likely could have found a better home ballpark to mash in, as the spacious Oakland Coliseum is not exactly conducive to hitting. What drew him in, though, was the chance at an everyday role. A’s general manager David Forst said he envisions Aguilar playing most days, either at first base or designated hitter.

“The most important thing for me when we were negotiating was that I’m going to play almost every day,” Aguilar said. “I’m going to have the at-bats to put up good numbers and have time to do my job. Hopefully, I stay healthy the whole year so I can help the young guys develop in a good way and put up good numbers."

Given Aguilar’s track record as a steady middle-of-the-order presence, the A’s have strong reason to believe that 2022 was an outlier for the 32-year-old slugger. Forst indicated that the club’s scouting department identified Aguilar’s swing decisions -- swinging both in and out of the zone -- as areas of improvement that could help him get back on track. Those adjustments will get underway with the help of hitting coaches Tommy Everidge and Chris Cron in Spring Training.

For Aguilar’s part, he’s already been hard at work making adjustments of his own. Setting up his offseason training in Florida, Aguilar has essentially rebuilt his entire batting stance to combat the increased frequency of pitchers throwing fastballs up in the zone. During his load at the plate, Aguilar said he’s worked on getting more on top of the ball by putting his hands lower in the zone and going straight to the ball.

“I was doing something different when I load,” Aguilar said. “I just tried to put my hands a little more down and go straight to the ball. I think that was the difference between last year and the year before, when I had good years. I just tried to come back to that setup and go from there.”

With a void in the middle of the order left from the departure of Sean Murphy, who was traded to the Braves earlier this winter, the A’s could certainly use a version of Aguilar that inches closer back to his 2018 All-Star form. Just as important as his presence in the lineup, however, will be Aguilar’s experience as a nine-year veteran for a rebuilding A’s roster filled with young players.

“When I was in Cleveland and Milwaukee, [the veterans] were always telling me that if I respect the game, play the game the right way, the game will pay you back,” Aguilar said. “That’s what I try to do with the young guys. They’ve got talent and everything to be there for years. Just respect the game and play the game the right way. For me, this is the most important thing, and hopefully, we can do that this year."