The Oakland A’s are expected to call up right-handed pitcher Cesar Valdez this week, reports Enrique Rojas of ESPN. The team hasn’t announced a move yet, but Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle notes that Valdez has been removed from the Triple-A Nashville Sounds’ schedule after previously being listed as their starter for Wednesday.
The A’s placed fellow right-hander Kendall Graveman on the 10-day disabled list on Monday, but the word is that he hopes to return quickly and miss only one start. Oakland currently has eight relievers including Raul Alcantara, who began the year in the rotation, but Slusser suggests Valdez would be coming up to make the spot start — likely on Thursday, which would have been Graveman’s next turn.
(UPDATE, 3:00 p.m.: The beat writers report that Valdez is now officially listed as Thursday’s starter.)
Valdez, 32, was signed as a minor league free agent last winter. He’s made two starts for Nashville this year, with excellent results — 10 innings, 3 runs, 12 Ks, 0 BB, 8 hits. Here’s my profile about him from the offseason:
The last time Valdez pitched in MLB, Rajai Davis was on the A’s. Wait, that doesn’t ... you know what I mean. Last time Rajai was on the A’s. It was 2010.
Valdez was 25 at the time, after a steady if unspectacular march up the minors as a starter. He got torched for a 7.65 ERA in 20 big league innings for Arizona, with shoddy peripherals (13 Ks, 10 BB). After another year in Triple-A, he went to the Mexican League from 2012-15.
It’s in 2015 that he starts to get interesting, as this FanGraphs community post details. He put up a 2.95 FIP in 160⅔ innings in the Mexican League that season thanks to suddenly microscopic walk and HR rates, which was enough to get him back to the minors with the Astros. He repeated that performance in the Pacific Coast League last year (see numbers below), and then did so again in the Dominican winter league — he led his team to the title and won the championship series MVP award along the way.
Valdez, 2016 AAA: 3.12 ERA, 138⅓ ip, 114 Ks, 13 BB, 8 HR, 3.24 FIP
(That walk rate comes out to 2.3% of batters, or 0.85 BB/9)
As for who might be sent down to make room for Valdez, that’s anybody’s guess for the moment. They will also need to clear a spot on the 40-man roster.
Hot take: Sure, why not? The A’s have already suffered multiple injuries in the rotation just two weeks into the season, and the next wave of prospects (Gossett, Blackburn, etc.) isn’t quite ready yet. Graveman and Sonny Gray aren’t expected to be out long anyway, and in the meantime I don’t mind giving Valdez his first MLB chance in seven years and getting a look at him in the meantime. He’s even a minor breakout candidate, which makes him more interesting than a Surkamp or Detwiler type who mostly provided an arm and a pulse.
I also wouldn’t have minded giving Alcantara the spot start, but I’m ambivalent about that. The point wouldn’t be to give him another chance as a starter — hopefully the book is closed on that for now — but rather just to get him some MLB innings whenever possible. If he’s going to carve out a role in the bigs then he’s going to need to keep racking up experience.
However, absent that arrangement, and this is completely my speculation here, my guess is that the corresponding roster move will be a DFA for Alcantara, who is out of minor league options. It’s gotta be a pitcher, because I don’t think the A’s expanded to a four-man bench with a third catcher all for just one game. It could be Frankie Montas (he pitched two of the last three days) or Daniel Coulombe being optioned to Triple-A, or another pitcher going on the DL, but I think the fact that Alcantara isn’t getting the spot start is a clear sign of where he stands.
If the A’s were at all comfortable with him right now, then wouldn’t they just give him the nod instead of making another move, especially one that involves altering the 40-man? This would be the time to sneak Alcantara through waivers, when his stock is at its lowest coming off two outings that ranged from shaky to disastrous. And DFA’ing him would even clear the 40-man spot for Valdez, though surely that could also be achieved by transferring someone (like Semien?) to the 60-day DL.
Stay tuned! Check back for more as this story develops.