The Oakland A’s signed infielder Cliff Pennington to a minor league deal on Friday, reports Martin Gallegos of the East Bay Times. The team also confirmed the move, as well as the fact that Pennington is a non-roster invitee to spring training.
This marks yet another reunion with a former A’s player, after also bringing back reliever Jerry Blevins this winter and many more familiar faces over the last few seasons. Pennington was Oakland’s 1st-round draft back in 2005 and debuted with the team in 2008. He played here for five years, including a postseason appearance as part of the magical 2012 squad, before bouncing around to the D’Backs, Blue Jays, Angels, and Reds.
On the field, Pennington is a glove-first utility player. He doesn’t hit much, as his career 79 wRC+ makes clear, but he can play both middle infield positions and help out elsewhere when needed — he even pitched an inning last summer. In his prime, he put up a 2010 season that graded around 4 WAR thanks to strong defense up the middle, though in recent years he’s been more of a replacement-level bench piece. He’ll turn 35 in June.
Last year Pennington made it into only 16 games for the Reds, all in April, before spending most of the season in Triple-A (and much of that in the Rangers system). To give an idea of what the switch-hitter brings at the plate, here are his numbers since 2015 (in 688 plate appearances):
Pennington, 2015-18: .220/.290/.298, 60 wRC+, 9 HR, 8.9% BB, 25.4% Ks
Obviously he’s not here for his bat (even at his peak he barely sniffed league-average hitting), but Pennington still has positives to offer. In addition to his defense and versatility, he’s also seen as a “leader in the clubhouse” and a “resource for young infielders” (both quotes via Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle).
To their credit, the A’s infield already knows a thing or two about fielding. 3B Matt Chapman and 1B Matt Olson both won Gold Gloves and Fielding Bibles last season, and SS Marcus Semien was a finalist for a Gold Glove as well. However, newcomer 2B Jurickson Profar will be playing his first full season at the keystone after moving all over the diamond while with the Rangers.
In terms of infield depth beyond that core starting four, top prospects/youngsters Franklin Barreto, Jorge Mateo, and Sheldon Neuse will also be in camp, with Barreto in particular on the cusp of MLB-readiness. In terms of fellow 30+ year-old veterans like Pennington, there’s also minor league free agent Eric Campbell (who’s played the corners and a little bit of 2B) and minor league Rule 5 pick Corban Joseph (who’s played mostly 2B), both of whom have shown top-notch plate discipline in the minors.
The A’s have now signed five players this week alone. If you’re having trouble keeping up, here’s the recent list from just the last five days:
- LHP Brett Anderson (MLB)
- LHP Tyler Alexander (minors)
- C Nick Hundley (minors)
- OF Robbie Grossman (MLB)
- ... and now Pennington (minors)
You can also read more about all of the minor league free agents the A’s have picked up this winter.
Sure, why not? On a minors deal, Pennington is a nice veteran presence, and could represent an emergency backup for Semien. There are plenty of contingency plans for 2B, but the options were questionable for if Semien ever misses time at SS. Mateo doesn’t seem ready for the bigs yet; Barreto and Pinder have experience there but clearly didn’t stick at the position; and Profar received poor marks last year in his first relatively extended exposure at short, before being acquired to play not-short for his new club.
Oakland may never need Pennington in the majors, and/or a better backup candidate might emerge as the summer goes on, but at least there is a competent veteran on hand now as a worst-case scenario. That might not sound like much, but just remember what it was like watching Semien play the position in 2015 before he spent years sheer-willing himself into being a quality fielder. Poor defense at shortstop can become a glaring weakness quickly, and in a midseason pinch it might be worth an auto-out at the bottom of the lineup in order to fix it.
And of course, I continue to love love love the trend of bringing back former A’s players. Penny was part of one of the most beloved A’s seasons in history, and had some memorable moments with the team — including fielding the final out of Dallas Braden’s perfect game. Oakland wanted depth anyway, so why not find it in the form of an old friend.
Welcome back, Cliff!