The next player on our list was acquired more with an eye toward 2015, but he still contributed to the Oakland Athletics last year. Say hello to No. 39, Eric O'Flaherty.
Name: Eric O'Flaherty, aka O'Fats
Position: LHP, relief
Stats: 21 games, 2.25 ERA, 4.48 FIP, 20 innings, 15 Ks, 4 BB, 1 save
WAR: 0.4 bWAR, negative-0.1 fWAR
How he got here: Signed as free agent prior to 2014
2014 Salary: $1.5 million
2015 Status: Under contract
2015 Salary: $5.5 million
By signing O'Flaherty last winter, Billy Beane found a way to add depth to an already packed bullpen without squeezing anyone out. O'Fats underwent Tommy John surgery in May 2013, which made him a buy-low candidate. The difference between O'Flaherty and other injured pitchers looking for bounce-backs, though, was that he was certain to miss the first half of the year before returning midseason. There was no point in signing him for just one year, as you normally would with a show-me deal to a pitcher who had suffered a serious injury the previous season, because the real prize was the possibility of a full, healthy season in 2015. However, there was still value to be reaped in the second half of 2014, and O'Flaherty's situation made him uniquely qualified to bolster Oakland's depth chart.
The A's had a full bullpen heading into the season, but everyone knows that it takes more than seven guys to get you through 6-7 months of baseball. The group of Jim Johnson, Luke Gregerson, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Fernando Abad, and Dan Otero looked solid to start the year, and Drew Pomeranz forced his way into the picture as well with a strong spring. Joe Savery lurked in Triple-A as depth, but at some point you can only hide so many capable backups in the minors; Evan Scribner had to be DFA'd when there wasn't space to keep him, although he ended up clearing waivers and staying in Sacramento. The point was that there was no way to add more reliable arms to the organization without cutting someone, and there were no obvious weak links to cut -- those didn't reveal themselves until later, through poor performance (Johnson) or injury (Cook).
And that's where O'Flaherty came in. He was on the 60-day DL, so he took up no space on the 25-man or 40-man rosters and nobody needed to be removed in March or April to make room for him. However, come July, when he was ready to play again, he would theoretically serve as an MLB-caliber reinforcement. Three months into the season, after some of life's unexpected twists were in the past and room had been tragically created for an extra arm in ways unforeseen the previous spring, the A's would be ready. Not with an untested youngster or a journeyman retread, but with a legitimate lefty -- a guy with a career 2.85 ERA (143 ERA+), who had a four-year span with a 1.95 ERA (204 ERA+) before his surgery and a full season in which he was sub-1.00.
This was the type of July addition that usually costs you a couple of prospects at the deadline, and Beane got it as a delayed-reaction free agent signing using only market-rate money and a bit of foresight. O'Flaherty was the time-release capsule of the A's offseason: ingest in January and you'll see your club's ERA begin to drop around July. It was the kind of brilliance on the margins that Beane shows when no one is paying attention, the little pieces around the edges that turn his collections of talent into playoff teams.
Best yet, it worked perfectly. O'Flaherty was activated on July 3 and debuted on July 4, pitching a scoreless frame in Oakland's 12-inning Independence Day battle against Canada's Blue Jays (still a British Commonwealth country!). He didn't light the world on fire for the rest of the season, but he also didn't get lit up himself. He only allowed runs in four of his 21 outings, he stranded all five of the runners he inherited, he converted 4-of-5 save/hold situations (3 holds, 1 save, 1 blown save), and he wasn't directly responsible for any losses (though partially for one loss).
Of the three home runs he allowed, one was to Chris Carter, and that shouldn't really count against him because Carter homered off of e'ryone around here; heck, O'Fats held on to convert the save in that game anyway. Another one was hit by Tyler Flowers, who was clearly filming a heartwarming Disney underdog movie on Sept. 8 when he magically homered off of O'Fats to tie it in the ninth and then off of Jesse Chavez to win it in the 12th. I saw it on TV with my own eyes, and I'm still pretty sure it didn't happen. That was the only game that O'Fats blew and sorta-lost, and if you want to blame it on him and not on what was clearly a team-wide curse by the baseball gods, then that's your choice. I mean, Tyler freaking Flowers. C'mon.
Otherwise, O'Flaherty just plugged along and came in for a scoreless inning now and then, but rarely in a crucial situation. He briefly filled in as the closer when Doolittle went on the DL, but the A's weren't winning any games at that point anyway so it didn't matter much; he did allow runs in both of his ninth-inning save situations, though, which wasn't heartening (on the two aforementioned homers by Carter and Flowers). He did not appear in the Wild Card game, so you get a break from reading about that painful memory for this player review post. Baseball-Reference liked his season because his results were good (low ERA), whereas Fangraphs didn't like him because his process was shaky (low K-rate, too many homers).
But none of that is too important. He served his purpose in 2014 by filling in when the A's needed an experienced arm, and that was just the cheap bonus year on the contract. That he filled in with quality innings was even better. But the real reason Beane signed him was to have him in 2015, because now he's had a half-season to shake the rust off and get his arm strength and command back, plus another six months worth of offseason to put the injury further in his rear-view mirror. Now he's a 30-year-old lefty reliever with an almost-All-Star track record on a one-year deal for market-rate money, if not slightly less. That's not something you can find on the free agent market, and it's not something you can trade for without giving something up. Billy Beane struck again, 12 months ago.
2014 season grade, relative to expectations: B+ ... I expected him to return from injury and be decent. He returned from injury and was pretty good. Not amazing, but pretty good.
2014 season grade, overall: B- ... Strictly looking at 2014 in a vacuum, his results were mixed depending who you ask and he only threw 20 innings. He moves up from a C because at least those innings came in the second half of the season, and because even I am not immune to a pretty ERA now and then.
There's not much to choose from here. O'Flaherty didn't enter in many flashy situations, and neither of his save chances went that great. There's one of Andy Parrino making a sweet play to bail him out and seal the save after Carter had already homered, but that's more of a Parrino highlight. Here is O'Fats striking out a pair in a mop-up inning against Houston.
O"Flaherty's 2014 season wasn't much to write home about, but it was never supposed to be. He was brought in mainly for 2015, and that time has now arrived. He's a guy to keep an eye on this year, as he could play a big role in the bullpen.