The Las Vegas Aviators, the Triple-A affiliate of the Athletics, announced yesterday that Ramon Laureano was joining the club on a rehab assignment. He started last night’s game, batting second and playing center field. The outfielder was given an 80-game suspension in August, serving the bulk of that last year but with 27 games remaining going into the 2022 campaign. If everything goes according to plan, Laureano could finish the suspension May 8.
Since that suspension, the club underwent a fire sale in the offseason, trading away their best and most-expensive players for younger and cheaper ones. The center field duties have been largely going to Cristian Pache so far this year, acquired from the Braves in the Matt Olson trade. Pache has been living up to his glove-first reputation, playing excellent defense but hitting just .208/.222/.340, 68 wRC+.
In his time in the majors, Laureano has shown himself capable of being above average both defensively and with the bat. It’s unclear how the playing time in center will be divided up when Laureano returns, though the A’s will likely want to have both players in the lineup as much as possible. For Pache, regular at-bats will be needed for the 23-year-old to continue to develop as a hitter. For Laureano, the club will surely want him to get back into a groove after his layoff, which included core surgery in September, and re-establish himself as a trade candidate. Chad Pinder, Seth Brown, Tony Kemp, Stephen Piscotty and Billy McKinney have been rotating through the outfield corners and designated hitter slots so far this year.
Players who violate the MLB – MLBPA Joint Drug Agreement are placed on the restricted list and do not receive MLB service time for the duration of their suspension. Laureano is currently sitting on three years and 14 days, enough for him to have reached arbitration for the first time for this year. However, since he will end up missing about a month of this season, he will likely finish the campaign shy of the four-year mark. That means he won’t reach free agency until after the 2025 season, giving the club one extra year of control over him.
For a team like the A’s that’s taking a step back, that could be viewed as making him more or less likely to be traded. On the one hand, the extra year of control increases the chances that the club can return to contention within his time with them, making it sensible to hang onto him. On the other hand, Laureano will now be going through arbitration four times instead of three, giving him more chances to increase his salary. He’s only set to make $2.45MM this year, which isn’t a prohibitive sum, even for a low-payroll team like the A’s. But the past few months saw them trade away players projected to make salaries just a bit higher than that. According to MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, Matt Olson was going to be earning around $12MM this year, with Matt Chapman a touch lower at $9.5MM. Chris Bassitt was pegged at $8.8MM and Sean Manaea at $10.2MM. The club went into the offseason determined to unload those projected salaries and eventually did so. Over the next couple of years, Laureano could push his salary into that range and become a little pricey for the club, especially if Pache seems capable of taking over for him, as he likely won’t reach arbitration until after the 2024 campaign.
The Marlins were known to have interest in Laureano during the offseason as they looked to upgrade in center field. However, they may have found a solution in Jesus Sanchez, who has been providing cromulent defense while mashing at the plate. The season is still quite young, but Sanchez is hitting .340/.386/.623, 194 wRC+.