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Oakland A's Free Agent Target: Rich Hill

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Bishop to K-1

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

There is really only one highly talented pitcher available on the open market, and that pitcher is Rich Hill.

Just about any A's fan who didn't spend all of last year hiding underneath a bed, head in hands, rocking back and forth while muttering "bad, bad, bad, bad, bad" for the duration of the season knows of Rich Hill's highly improbable and highly impactful return to the big leagues. But just to quickly recap, after getting drafted in the fourth round in 2002, Hill made his major league debut in 2005 armed with what many were touting as the curviest curveball in all of baseball, but issues with controlling his primary weapon prevented him from ever finding any sort of consistency. High walk rates beget high ERAs and Hill soon found himself bouncing between a multitude of other organizations while mainly finding work as a specialist reliever.

Hill's career looked to have bottomed out when he opted out of his minor league contract with the Nationals and signed with the Independent League Long Island Ducks, but, at the lowest point in his career, Hill made a few small changes that completely altered his destiny for the better. Considering Hill's best pitch has always undeniably been his curveball, he figured he should throw it much more often. In addition to simply throwing his best pitch more, he also would subtly change his grip on the curveball to give it different forms, a fast form, a slow one, and something of a slurve. By throwing his curveball, or curveballs, more often, his perfectly normal fastball would appear faster and have more bite. Suddenly, Hill was not only good, but elite. He signed a half-season-long contract with the Red Sox and dominated his way into a starting job with our very own A's last season.

Last season Hill started 20 games, throwing 110.1 innings, to a tune of a 2.12 ERA with a 2.39 FIP, a 0.997 WHIP, and a 3.91 K/BB ratio (129/33). He also pitched briefly in the postseason.

Rich Hill is once again on the open market, entering his age-37 season. Partially due to the relatively weak free agent class as a whole, and partially due to his unquestioned dominance last season, Hill is the most coveted pitcher on the market, and rumors that the Dodgers, Yankees, Rangers, and Astros have strong interest have been running rampant the past few days. In all likelihood, Hill will be looking to sign a three year deal for around $50 million dollars. That is a big chunk of change that would likely hamstring other potential offseason moves the A's are planning on making, but the A's haven't been linked to many, if any, expensive position player free agents and are going to spend that money somewhere. Why not think about a Hill reunion?

Dollar amounts aside, the three years on Hill's contract should also give most teams pause because of Hill's age. Hill will be 39 years old by the time his contract expires, and pitchers have an annoying tendency to decline with age and randomly break in sometimes irreparable ways. Last season, in between his beautiful and dominant performances, he was felled for a month with a blister, and he's received Tommy John surgery in the past (way back in 2010). Signing Hill guarantees that the A's would have one of the best pitchers in all of baseball on their team, but it does not guarantee that he would be making even 20 starts a year. He just doesn't have that sort of track record.

But there are a lot of reasons that a Hill reunion would make sense. Once again, given the general lack of good enough free agents to plug the holes on the roster (for the right price), it seems more likely that the A's will try and search for solutions internally or via trade (with small, complementary free agent signings like Brandon Moss to round out the roster. Maybe). The A's look prime to be "contending if everything goes right and if you squint" going into next year, with a good, strong, and young rotation backed by a promising but inconsistent mix of youngsters and veterans. Adding Hill to that team makes the rotation a legitimate force to be reckoned with while simultaneously taking pressure off of some of the younger arms. Everything would still need to go right, but one would no longer need to squint to see the A's as contenders in a weak-ish AL West. The worst years of this new generation of A's is (hopefully) behind us all and so even if Hill was only looking to sign with a team looking to contend, the team could make that pitch.

The A's would just need to outbid the Dodgers, Yankees, Rangers, and Astros. And likely others! Easy Peasy.

Question for the comments: What is the absolute highest year total/dollar total y'all would be comfortable signing Hill to, or should the team not bother at all and allocate the money elsewhere?