The A’s bullpen surely can use an offseason makeover.
Entering last season, the relief corps appeared to be one of Oakland’s strengths, even with an injury to closer Sean Doolittle. It didn’t take many games for things to disintegrate, however, and one-run losses (often due to blown late-inning leads) were the hallmark of the 2015 squad.
A’s general manager David Forst said upgrading the bullpen is the most pressing item on the offseason to-do list. Tyler Clippard, Doolittle’s fill-in at closer, was traded in July. Edward Mujica has left via free agency. A healthy return from Doolittle, who missed most of last season with shoulder injuries, would be an obvious lift. But who gets him the ball in the ninth?
Expect the A’s to search far and wide, in free agency and perhaps via trade, to boost their middle relief and setup crew. The free agent crop of relievers this winter isn’t considered a particularly strong one, but there are some names the A’s could zero in on:
LHP Sean Doolittle: age 29
Stats: 1-0, 3.95 ERA, 12 G, 15 K’s, 5 BB’s
LHP Drew Pomeranz: age 26
Stats: 5-6, 3.66 ERA, 53 G, 82 K’s, 31 BB’s
RHP Ryan Dull: age 26
Stats: 1-2, 4.24 ERA, 13 G, 16 K’s, 6 BB’s
LHP Fernando Abad: age 29
Stats: 2-2, 4.15 ERA, 62 G, 45 K’s, 19 BB’s
RHP Fernando Rodriguez: age 31
Stats: 4-2, 3.84 ERA, 56 G, 65 K’s, 24 BB’s
RHP Evan Scribner: age 30
Stats: 2-2, 4.35 ERA, 54 G, 64 K’s, 4 BB’s
Thoughts: If Pomeranz isn’t needed in the rotation, he’s got the stuff to be a quality setup man. Dull looked sensational for a stretch after his September call-up, but it’s too early to simply plug him in and take for granted that Oakland’s late-inning relief is taken care of. Abad, Rodriguez and Scribner are arbitration-eligible, and though all will remain affordable, they can’t take jobs for granted when they arrive at spring training.
RHP Darren O’Day: age 33
Stats: 6-2, 1.52 ERA, 68 G, 82 K’s, 14 BB’s
A good fit?: Considered by many the premier reliever in free agency, O’Day’s market is already heating up. Multiple teams reportedly have extended offers to the sidearmer. The A’s have spent aggressively on free agent relievers in the past (Grant Balfour, Brian Fuentes), but O’Day is expected to command a three-year deal at around $24 million. That’s steep for a setup man.
RHP Joakim Soria: age 31
Stats: 3-1, 2.53 ERA, 72 G, 64 K’s, 19 BB’s
A good fit?: The A’s need help from the right side, and Soria also can close, which would provide insurance if Doolittle has more injury problems. Soria should be more affordable than O’Day. Seems like a possible fit.
Other: RHP Tyler Clippard
BEST OF THE REST
RHP Ryan Madson: age 35
Stats: 1-2, 2.13, 68 G, 58 K’s, 14 BB’s
A good fit?: Madson was out of the majors for three full seasons before an amazing comeback last year with Kansas City. That sets him up as one of the top relievers available despite his advanced age. He’s a guy younger A’s relievers could learn from given the road he’s traveled.
LHP Antonio Bastardo: age 30
Stats: 4-1, 2.98, 66 G, 64 K’s, 26 BB’s
A good fit?: Given Abad’s struggles in 2015, the A’s could take an interest in the top lefty reliever on the market. One drawback: Bastardo has averaged 4.3 walks per nine innings over his career.
Others: RHP Seung-hwan Oh, RHP Shawn Kelley, LHP Tony Sipp
RHP Trevor Cahill: age 27
Stats: 1-3, 5.40 ERA, 26 G, 36 K’s, 16 BB’s
A good fit?: He’s endured his struggles since leaving the A’s in a trade that happened right after the 2011 winter meetings. But he found some late-season success pitching out of the Cubs’ bullpen in 2015. How about an affordable one-year deal with his original team, to re-establish himself heading into free agency next winter?
Overall: The A’s could use help from both the left and right side in the bullpen. Unlike other positions, don’t count them out of the sweepstakes for some of the top-shelf guys on the open market. This team may be looking toward the future, but Oakland’s bullpen needs help now.