The Oakland A’s officially announced the signing of free agent 3B Trevor Plouffe on Wednesday, and to make room on the 40-man roster they designated RHP Zach Neal for assignment, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.
Neal made his MLB debut in May and wound up throwing 70 innings for the A’s. He served as a swingman, working mostly as a multi-inning long man in the bullpen but also making a half dozen starts in emergency situations. Despite not being a prospect at all and striking out absolutely no one (3.5 K/9), he actually put up decent numbers for a backup depth guy. He even recorded a couple of saves, technically.
Neal, 2016: 24 games, 4.24 ERA, 4.35 FIP, 70 ip, 27 Ks, 6 BB, 9 HR, 0.5 WAR*
* average of 0.8 bWAR and 0.2 fWAR
Despite that positive report, though, this move is not a surprise. The A’s need to DFA two players this week to make room for free agents Plouffe and Santiago Casilla, and there are no easy decisions left in terms of whom to cut. In our discussion on this topic last Friday, Neal was one of my picks to DFA (the A’s still need to drop one more player, and my other pick is OF Brett Eibner).
While his success was a pleasant bonus last season, it’s entirely possible that 2016 will end up being Neal’s career year — it’s not easy to survive with such a pure pitch-to-contact strategy, even with his comically low walk rate. And anyway, the A’s have a full pen now and a lot of other right-handed starter/swingmen ahead of him in line (Triggs, Cotton, Mengden, Hahn, Alcantara, eventually Bassitt, plus the lefty Overton), so the 28-year-old was quickly falling down the depth chart.
Of course, this move does not guarantee that Neal is gone from the organization, though it could be a couple weeks before we learn his fate. There are several possible results, but most likely he’ll end up going through waivers. If he makes it through without any other teams claiming him, as Rangel Ravelo and Max Muncy did this winter, then he could still wind up back at Triple-A Nashville this season. If so, then the A’s will have another valuable depth option stashed in the minors. (My personal guess: probably higher than 50/50 that he gets claimed.)
For more on the Plouffe signing:
Jan. 10: A’s sign Plouffe
Jan. 11: The pros and cons of Plouffe
Jan. 13: Updating the lineup w/ Plouffe
Forst confirms Plouffe will get bulk of time at 3B, Healy will be mostly at first, some DH and some 3B.— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) January 18, 2017
Forst sees Plouffe as main 3B, and still sees chance "for 500 plate appearances for other guys like Ryon." #Athletics— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) January 18, 2017