I know most people don’t pay close attention to baseball on the west coast, at least until the Giants won the World Series last season, but there is actually another club in the Bay Area that has, rather quietly, been working through a major transformation this offseason.
The Oakland A’s have bolstered their team in a myriad of ways. On offense they added David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui (you can read about the addition of DeJesus in Four in One, Josh Willingham in Hot Stove: Signings Galore, and Matsui in Hot Stove: Lee Isn’t Only Newsmaker). That’s a pretty nice upgrade on offense for the club, but it’s what they have done to bolster their bullpen that is at the center of my work today.
From the 7th inning on last year, the A’s had the 2nd best ERA in the AL just 0.13 behind the Rays’ 3.06 mark), and they were also very tough to hit allowing just 405 hits, two behind the AL leaders the Rays and Yankees (don’t neglect to realize that the A’s also led the AL in overall ERA at 3.65 and in shutouts with 17). Let’s go through the parts of what could be the best pen in the AL, and perhaps all of baseball, in 2011.
It all starts with the closer, Andrew Bailey. He had surgery on his elbow in September but should be 100 percent by the times the games count. The start Bailey has had to his career is historic. You can read about the history he has made in Top-20 RPs for 2011.
The team retained sidewinder Brad Ziegler on a 1-year, $1.25 million to avoid arbitration. It’s somewhat fair to suggest that he is a gimmick hurler, but at the same time he has a 2.51 ERA and a 2.79 GB/FB ratio over 193.2 innings pitched. He is an excellent setup man who keeps the ball on the ground and avoids the big inning.
The A’s surprised many by signing fireballer Grant Balfour to serve as the 8th inning bridge to Bailey (Balfour was given a 2-year deal for $8.1 million). I already broke down Balfour in Hot Stove: Rumor Mill, Dec.29, but here is a quick recap – Balfour throws hard, strikes out a ton of batters, and is almost impossible to square up consistently if you have a bat in your hands.
So the A’s were set then, right? Not quite. They surprisingly swooped in and added another top flight arm to their bullpen in Brian Fuentes whom they agreed to a 2-year deal with (no dollar figures are known yet, but it’s been rumored to be a deal for as much as $12 million which seems high to me, but we’ll have to see). I wrote about Fuentes about a week ago in Signings and Strategy where I laid out the case that this guy is still a high level reliever despite the perception in some circles that he is no longer a strong late inning option.
The A’s didn’t sign Carl Crawford or trade for Adrian Gonzalez, but the accumulation of their “small” deals has greatly improved a club that could sneak up on many in the 2011 season.
By Ray Flowers