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In favor of bringing back Shawn Kelley

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The A’s have talked to Kelley, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Several players from the 2018 Oakland A’s are now free agents, and more than zero of them figure to return to the fold. Now we’ve got our first update on that front, as the team has spoken with relief pitcher Shawn Kelley, reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle.

The A’s acquired Kelley in August from the Nationals, and he was excellent for Oakland down the stretch. He only allowed runs in two of his 19 appearances, and he also did a good job stranding runners that he inherited from his teammates. In the Wild Card Game against the Yankees, he pitched a scoreless 5th inning to preserve what was then a tight 2-0 deficit.

Kelley, 2018 OAK: 2.16 ERA, 16⅔ ip, 18 Ks, 6 BB, 0 HR, 2.08 FIP
Kelley, 2018 MLB: 2.94 ERA, 49 ip, 50 Ks, 11 BB, 7 HR, 3.71 FIP

Also: 4-of-6 in holding leads (4 holds, 2 blown), and 18-of-22 inherited runners stranded

The right-hander will pitch next season at age 35. This summer his fastball averaged 91 mph and topped out at 92, both of which constitute a slight dip from previous years, and he supplements it solely with a slider.

The A’s enter the offseason with an already crowded bullpen. They have Treinen, Trivino, Rodney, Petit, Buchter, and Hendriks presumably locked into spots, plus Pagan, Gearrin, Dull, and Wendelken still under team control. They’ve also got a few out-of-options starters (Mengden, Montas, Bassitt) who could potentially vie for a role as a long-man, and this is all before considering the possibility of adding a second lefty to the group.

Hot takes

I’d love to bring Kelley back. However, there are two key questions: Is there space for another righty in the middle innings, and how much will he cost?

Let’s begin with the money. He just finished a 3/$15M deal, signed immediately after what was arguably his career-best season. He remained a top-notch setup man the first year of the contract, but then it went downhill quickly. He pitched like trash in 2017, he got straight-up waived by his team in 2018, and he publicly contemplated retirement this winter. That makes his value tough to peg, especially after turning things around in his small sample in Oakland.

I believe Kelley is talented enough to warrant a deal similar to his last one, but I wonder if he’ll need to reprove himself first before he can demand that kind of commitment again. If we’re talking about one or two years at less than $5 million annually, then I’m on board.

Of course, there’s still the question of fit. The bullpen is already heavy on righties, and in particular Treinen, Rodney, and Petit are each making $5 million or more. It might be difficult to justify significant dollars for another righty who would slot in somewhere between the third-to-sixth best reliever on the team. Other positions like second base, catcher, and the rotation are more pressing needs, and it will already be tough to address everything on an Oakland budget. If keeping Kelley is the sole difference that means losing Jed Lowrie, then forget it and roll cheap with Pagan or Wendelken or etc.

So, my support for Kelley comes with the caveat that I haven’t fully thought it through yet. We also don’t know how the rest of the offseason will go, and who else might get traded away. But I have two hunches, both pure speculation: I think one of the out-of-options starters (Montas, Bassitt, Mengden) will get traded for the sake of roster flexibility, and I think Kelley will be one of the bargains of the offseason because he’ll sign a middle-relief contract but perform like a setup man and maybe even find himself in such a role by year’s end.

I don’t need to have Kelley back in 2019, but if it does happen then I have a feeling we won’t regret re-signing him. Not my most scientific analysis, but there it is.