Kemp asked, said no to using Astros' 'system'

February 14th, 2020

MESA, Ariz. -- Tony Kemp arrived to A’s camp on Friday, knowing the questions regarding the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal would come because of his time with the club in 2017. In his first appearance with media since the Commissioner's report came out, Kemp made it clear he had no part in the scheme.

“I was up and down [between the big leagues and Minors] in 2017,” Kemp said. “Once I got there in September, the system was already in place. I just tried to keep my head down and play hard and not really concern myself with it.”

Kemp spent most of that 2017 campaign in Triple-A, appearing in just 17 games with Houston. Putting up good numbers in the Minors earlier in the year and not wanting to change anything up, Kemp said he turned down the offer to partake in the system that September and was never asked again. When MLB opened up its investigation into the scandal, Kemp said he was not one of the players asked for involvement.

“It was out of my hands at that point. Just having four months in the big leagues at the moment, once it got going, I got asked if I wanted to use the system and I said no,” Kemp said. “It was just one of those things where I felt I was having a good season at the plate in Triple-A and just wanted to continue to do that and not concern myself with it.”

Now a member of the A’s after being traded over from the Cubs on Jan. 13, Kemp reunited with a former Houston teammate from that 2017 season in Mike Fiers, who has been at the center of the controversy due to his coming forward about the system that was in place. Upon arriving to Hohokam Stadium on Wednesday, Fiers immediately approached Kemp for a conversation.

“It went well,” Kemp said of the discussion. “I understand where he comes from. He’s my teammate now and he was my teammate in Houston. Nothing changes. Now we’re trying to win a division and we have a lot of guys in place ready for the challenge. I’m excited to play behind him again.”

Were Kemp actually involved in the whole ordeal, the attention surrounding him might be a little tougher to deal with, as some former Astros from that season now with new teams have even come out with apologies in recent weeks. After a conversation in manager Bob Melvin’s office, the two determined it was unnecessary to make Kemp address the entire team.

“It’s not like we’re bringing in somebody who was part of that thing for three years and playing every day,” Melvin said. “It might be a little different the way we go about it. But I think this gets closed pretty quickly as far as his time over there in Houston.

“I think in his position, there really wasn’t much other than the uncertainty of what transpired when he was there. I think there was some stuff out there that would suggest he didn’t benefit from it nor, from what he told me, did he want it. It won’t take too long for our guys to understand where he’s at with all that.”

Though if any player feels the need to discuss the matter with him, Kemp is open to having a one-on-one conversation.

“I’m sure I’m gonna go around the locker room," Kemp said. "If I was more involved, I think a statement would be the right thing to do. But we’re all grown men. If you have a question, you can come up and ask me and I’ll be straightforward with you."

Also providing a smoother transition is Kemp’s familiarity with his new teammates. Not only did he play with Fiers in Houston, Kemp also spent a few seasons playing against some of the A’s current stars like Matt Olson, Matt Chapman and Sean Manaea in the Minors.

“I’ve always respected Kemp,” Fiers said. "He’s always been a good guy and I always get along with him. He’s a good dude to have on the field and as a teammate. I just told him it was nice to have him here and he’s really going to help out.”

With the introductions out of the way, Kemp now will move forward finding himself in what is shaping up to be a five-man battle for the A’s vacant second-base job. Melvin said Kemp will get plenty of reps at the position early in spring, but also playing in his favor will be versatility, as Kemp can also play all three outfield positions in addition to second base.

While the offensive numbers for Kemp don’t jump out -- he combined to slash .212/.291/.380 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs over 110 games last season and is a career .233 hitter over four big league seasons -- A’s players and coaches know what he brings to the table goes beyond the stats.

“He plays great defense. He’s a guy that does the little things. A very sound baseball player,” Fiers said. “You can stick him anywhere in the lineup. This is a guy who just plays hard, and especially kind of having second base up for grabs here, I feel like he’s going to make it tough for everybody else to take that job from him.”

Whether it comes at second base or in more of a utility role, Kemp isn't too concerned with his exact role on the team, so long as he gets a chance to contribute. Having watched the A's from afar, he recognizes how the success from their back-to-back 97-win seasons has come from every player on the roster doing their part.

“I feel blessed to have this opportunity with this team," Kemp said. "Being on the other side in Houston, if we were ever worried about any team, it was the Oakland A’s. They were always on our heels over there, and I’m excited to be on this side of it.”