For months the A’s have been looking for a left handed reliever. The search took them through the world of free agency, where the A’s were outbid but the underbidding Cubs and too poor for the inexpensive Tony Watson. But the A’s finally have their man, and there’s a pretty good argument to make that he’s better than any of the options they had previously been linked to - welcome to Oakland, Ryan Buchter!
With that addition, the A’s pen looks mostly set. There’s still a matter of Spring Training, one of the worst times of the year in terms of pitcher injuries and therefore we’re still a ways away from knowing the exact configuration of the A’s pen.
The current bullpen configuration
As of now, there are ten guys who are obvious contenders for a big league spot. With how aggressively the A’s have pursued some of these pitchers, it seems they’re intent on going with an eight man pen. It might be due to injury, but not all of the guys below will make the team out of Spring Training. The options are:
The locks, health provided
Blake Treinen (R): The closer.
Yusmeiro Petit (R): A versatile arm capable of taking on multiple innings or spot starts. Petit may well pitch in every numerical inning of the game over the course of the season.
Emilio Pagan (R): The A’s love Pagan, a guy who gets flyballs but keeps them in the yard. Expect to see him prominently in high leverage situations while throwing the occasional long outing.
Ryan Buchter (L): The A’s newest pitcher is predictably good against lefties but has also shown a knack to get out righties. He’s not only a LOOGY, but he can be a LOOGY and that’s exactly what the A’s needed.
The varying degree of question marks
For one reason or another, these guys could be an odd man out.
Daniel Coulombe (L): Options matter, and should the pen end up being extra tight, the A’s could start the year with Coulombe in the minors until he’s needed. He’s been an excellent LOOGY and he will be in Oakland at some point, most likely on Opening Day.
Santiago Casilla (R): I’m AN’s resident Casilla defender, so please note the potential bias. Casilla is fine. He’s not a great pitcher, but he’s not a bad option for the sixth guy out of the pen as he slates to be with this roster’s current standing. And while his contract isn’t a good one (it’s far from a good signing) it’s easily dump-able if Casilla is squeezed out.
Chris Hatcher (R): The A’s seem to like Hatcher who had a solid third of a year in the green and gold. In spite of increasing his “rising” fastball usage after coming over from the Dodgers, Hatcher became more of a groundball pitcher on the A’s. That goes against some of the A’s other moves to acquire flyballers and has to make you wonder just how sustainable that small sample success is. Hatcher is cheap and, again, should the A’s need a bullpen spot, he could be the guy to go. His track record is lacking and he’ll need to have a solid spring in order to make the cut.
Raul Alcantara (R): Things aren’t looking great for Alcantara’s chances on the A’s. He’s out of options so he has to make the team right out of camp. His best quality is his ability to eat innings, and there will always be games that need mopping up, something Alcantara can do just fine. Is that a skillset worthy of a roster spot?
Alcantara’s stuff just doesn’t seem to play up much in a bullpen role, and with two guys capable of taking on more innings as needed, Alcantara will have a tough time cracking the roster out of spring.
Ryan Dull (R): Dull has never much looked the part in either stature or stuff, but throughout his professional career he’s just gotten outs. After a rough 2017, Dull will have to earn his spot in the pen and may not be afforded the benefit of the doubt if there is a roster squeeze. His three options mean he can be shuttled to and from Nashville, and if things go according to plan (they never do) that’s likely how the season will start.
Liam Hendriks (R): Hendriks has struggled as of late, and I’m sure you’re tired of hearing about the stuff. But the stuffffff. He has the stuff to be the guy the A’s traded for and even if he doesn’t put it together, should be a roughly average pitcher like he was last year. That’s acceptable, if less than exciting.
Minor league depth
Injuries happen. A lot. Last year the A’s used 28 total pitchers, 20 of whom pitched at least once in relief. Part of that is the A’s giving up hope of contention, but even in good years teams will end up having random arms throw important innings as attrition takes hold. Here are the next in line guys who, in spite of the numerous arms in front of them, will likely see big league innings in 2018.
Bobby Wahl (R): Wahl debuted last year and is a Non-Roster Invitee (NRI) to Spring Training, and after a reasonable debut in 2017 he’s on the doorstep to the bigs. I wouldn’t expect big things from Wahl in 2018, but I would expect some kind of things because that’s how baseball goes. Expect to see him in Oakland when the A’s pen is running on fumes in early August.
Simon Castro (R): Castro lacks the command to stick, but could get lucky in a short stint and hack it. Like Wahl, he’s just an injury and a 17-inning game away from getting the call.
Frankie Montas (R): It wasn’t long ago we were salivating over Montas’ triple digit potential. Now? He’s a bit of an afterthought. He’s still a guy who can light up the radar gun, the stuff is still something to drool at even if he still hasn’t quite figured out how to control it, and he can eat innings. The A’s are fortunate he’s been granted one final option, and while he’s got a long way to go he’s a guy to keep an eye on — just not right out of the gate, barring a dominant spring.
Lou Trivino (R): He made it to Triple-A last year and was added to the 40-man roster over the offseason. He was drafted as a starter in 2013 but now plays as a max-effort, high-velocity reliever.
Chris Bassitt (R): The former starter is back from Tommy John surgery, but he got torched in Triple-A upon his return. What will his role be in 2018 and how good will he be in it?
J.B. Wendelken (R): Remember him? He was acquired for Brett Lawrie a couple years ago and briefly debuted, but then he quietly went down with Tommy John surgery. He’s not on the 40-man anymore, but he and his big changeup are still around in the minors.
A wild card
Oh Andrew Triggs. In early 2017, we talked about Andrew Triggs, Cy Young Award winner. Ha-ha we joked almost entirely seriously, this guy doesn’t give up runs, this guy is the MVP. What a gem!
And then he broke down, probably predictably in his first real stint as a starter.
The A’s should probably do what’s best for Triggs, which seems to be sticking him in the pen. He didn’t hold up in a starting role in either 2016 or 2017, something he didn’t have a lot of runway leading into. He’s always been a reliever.
Then again, the A’s could use starters. If Triggs can give the A’s 10-15 good to great starts? That’d be a big bump. And as we’ve established, the pen is full. Triggs is a big question mark who could give the A’s a huge lift — we just don’t know where that’ll be.
The state of the bullpen
Per fWAR, which is admittedly not the best metric for bullpen measurement, the A’s had the 19th best pen in baseball in 2017. The specifics aren’t important as there’s little question the team struggled to get outs late in games. Especially true after the A’s gave up their two best relievers at the deadline.
Bullpens fluctuate, often times due to luck. There’s a chance the A’s upgrades could be for naught in this unpredictable sport.
The team has done well though, picking up high octane pitchers with years of control to give the A’s a shot in 2018 and beyond. There’s depth in case of injury, there’s variety in pitcher types, and this isn’t a pen that will need to luck into outs - they should get their share of punchouts and dominant outings.
Nothing is guaranteed, but the A’s pen looks significantly improved.
How exactly the Opening Day roster shakes out matters, but ultimately a lot of the guys above will play important roles on the 2018 A’s. How would you construct the Opening Day bullpen?