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Oakland A’s acquire reliever Shawn Kelley from Nationals

The A’s did not give up any players in the trade.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland A’s acquired relief pitcher Shawn Kelley from the Nationals on Sunday, the team announced. The A’s also received cash from Washington, and in exchange they sent over only international bonus slot money. The trade was first reported by Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. To make room on the 40-man roster, outfielder Jake Smolinski was placed on the 60-day disabled list.

The July trade deadline already passed last week, but that doesn’t mean a true end to swaps. Teams can still make deals for the rest of the season, but the players must first pass through waivers. That’s a significant hurdle for any big-ticket names, but role players, expiring contracts, and those with albatross salaries often still find themselves in play.

For his part, Kelley fits into the first two of those categories. He’s a reliever who wasn’t serving as a closer or setup man this year, and he’s in the final months of a three-year contract that pays him a total of $5.5 million this season. His numbers were decent enough in a low-leverage role, with too many homers but an excellent K/BB rate:

Kelley, 2018: 3.34 ERA, 32⅓ ip, 32 Ks, 5 BB, 7 HR, 26 hits, 4.56 FIP

In his three seasons in Washington, Kelley converted 27-of-32 save/hold chances (84%), with most of those opportunities coming in 2016. He only got two chances this year, going 1-for-2 with one hold and one blown. He also stranded 6-of-7 inherited runners this season, and 39-of-53 total with the Nats (74%).

In terms of stuff, the right-hander is strictly fastball/slider. His four-seam has averaged 92 mph this season and topped out a bit over 95, and he’s used his mid-80s slider a whopping 47% of the time (all courtesy of Brooks Baseball).

Unfortunately, the 34-year-old found himself in the headlines this past week for negative reasons. On July 31 he was brought in to mop up the 9th inning of a game that the Nats led 25-1 (not a typo), and he promptly put two runners on base and served up a three-run homer to Austin Jackson. After the dinger he angrily slammed his glove to the ground and glared into his team’s dugout.

The pitcher claimed he was frustrated about the homer, and manager Dave Martinez agreed. General manager Mike Rizzo did not see things the same way, though, and felt the antics were due to frustration that he’d been called into such a ridiculous blowout game at all. Rizzo described the glove toss as “disrespectful to the organization,” and Kelley was designated for assignment the next morning. “You’re either in or you’re in the way, and I thought he was in the way,” said Rizzo, via Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post. For more on the incident:

Amid all this drama the full truth is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that not all is well in Washington. They’ve had a disappointing also-ran season when they were supposed to contend, and the leadership of rookie manager Martinez was called into question by some of the articles linked above.

That’s all in the past now, though, and Kelley now plays for Oakland. The A’s currently have nine relievers in their bullpen during a stretch when they only need four starters:

  • Blake Treinen
  • Lou Trivino
  • Jeurys Familia
  • Yusmeiro Petit
  • Ryan Buchter
  • Emilio Pagan
  • Chris Hatcher
  • Ryan Dull
  • J.B. Wendelken

The latter two have options remaining and can easily be sent to Triple-A Nashville, though it’s not yet clear exactly who will go to make room for Kelley.

As for the 40-man roster, Jake Smolinski was placed on the 60-day DL to clear a spot. He’d been on the minor league DL since mid-July, and the diagnosis is a blood clot in his left calf. He could be out “as much as three months,” reports Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle, meaning his season could well be over.

Summing it all up, the A’s added a new veteran reliever, got some of his salary covered, and gave up only some international slot money that they couldn’t really use anyway. That doesn’t mean Oakland sent over actual money, just the ability to spend on the int’l market, which they more or less aren’t allowed to do this year due to penalties for past overspending.


Hot takes

Sure, why not? Kelley isn’t a setup man but he’s probably more reliable than the Triple-A Taxi Crew, and at worst he’s another piece of depth for the final months of the season. It doesn’t even matter how good he is, because the A’s really did get him basically for free; if he doesn’t work out, then oh well, just bring back Ryan Dull or whatever. This is found money, with the upside to be helpful for a bullpen that has been forced to carry the load most of the year. A 6.4 K/BB rate will always get my attention.

As for the drama, all I can offer is a ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ and some words about change of scenery and the power of the A’s high-character, professional atmosphere. It sounds like the Nats are in a really bad place right now and so it’s not surprising to hear about internal problems, and Kelley’s episode doesn’t necessarily make him an outright malcontent. I don’t recall hearing bad things about him in the past, so it’s not like he has a history of being a whiner or a distraction. We’ll just have to find out for ourselves, and again, there’s virtually no risk here because this was a free roll of the dice.

Kelley isn’t a starter, and he’s not a lefty, but he’s probably an upgrade and every little bit can help.