If you thought the A's bullpen couldn't get any deeper, think again. Today, Oakland signed left-handed reliever Eric O'Flaherty to a two-year deal worth roughly $7 million, with performance incentives that push the contract's potential value to around $10 million.
O'Flaherty underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2013 and isn't expected to be available until around the All-Star Break. But when he's back, expect him to join an already top-notch bullpen, adding to Oakland's plethora of top-tier, front-end relievers like Ryan Cook, Jim Johnson, Sean Doolittle, and Luke Gregerson. When ready, he'll probably slot in behind Doolittle as the second lefty reliever out of the bullpen, and in my book, he's a step up from Jerry Blevins, who was dealt to the Nationals in December.
Before the surgery, O'Flaherty was a workhorse for the Atlanta Braves, and a consistent one at that — he notched 56, 78, and 64 appearances in 2010, 2011, and 2012, respectively, posting FIPs of 3.33, 2.54, and 3.27 in those years. His opponents' BABIP was remarkably consistent in those years as well, ranging from .274 to .282. His career K/9 is 6.91, with a BB/9 of 3.13.
It's impossible to predict how well particular athletes will perform after returning from significant injury, but before the surgery, O'Flaherty was in his prime — he turns 29 in a few weeks. The A's are only his third organization, as O'Flaherty spent the first three years of his career in the Mariners organization before the Braves claimed him off waivers at the end of the 2008 season.
O'Flaherty's bread-and-butter pitch is a low-90s sinker that's especially nasty against righties. He also throws a four seamer that tops out around 92 mph, and boasts a change-up and a slider in his repertoire as well.
While the signing doesn't affect Oakland's opening-day roster, Fernando Abad is most likely to be the odd man out once O'Flaherty returns — he probably has the least upside of the pitchers in the A's bullpen, and the A's will want to carry at least two lefty setup men. Drew Pomeranz is also an option there, and he, too, could end up being the one that gets bounced when O'Flaherty returns. For now, though, my money is on Abad.
Late Thursday — An update from Susan Slusser:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p>Eric O'Flaherty tells me he is "100 percent certain" he will be ready to go in the first half of season, possibly as early May. <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23Athletics&src=hash">#Athletics</a></p>— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) <a href="https://twitter.com/susanslusser/statuses/426225129052307456">January 23, 2014</a></blockquote>
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There's already buzz from some national writers (Ken Rosenthal, for instance) who think that O'Flaherty might be a candidate to close for the A's if Jim Johnson isn't back for the 2015 season. While it's probably not worth speculating about the long-term prospects for a pitcher in the midst of rehabbing from the most significant injury a pitcher can experience, Oakland's bullpen just got a lot stronger for the second half of 2014 and beyond. And in classic Billy Beane fashion, it's at very low cost.