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Oakland A’s DFA Fernando Rodney, call up Wei-Chung Wang

A’s shuffle bullpen, finally add second lefty

Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s designated reliever Fernando Rodney for assignment, the team announced Saturday. To take his place on both the 25-man and 40-man rosters, lefty reliever Wei-Chung Wang was selected from Triple-A and called up to Oakland.

The A’s acquired Rodney last August, and his tenure began with 11 straight scoreless innings that month. However, he collapsed in September and couldn’t record an out in the subsequent Wild Card Game. Oakland picked up his contract option over the offseason, but he continued to struggle throughout 2019.

Rodney, 2019: 9.42 ERA, 14⅓ ip, 14 Ks, 12 BB, 2 HR, 5.46 FIP

Along the way this year, Rodney picked up a pair of losses. Once he entered a tie game and let Boston score three runs to win it, and then in Pittsburgh he was handed a 3-1 lead in the 13th inning but served up four runs to blow the save and earn the loss. He was also on the mound for the second game in Japan, when the Mariners scored the winning run in the 12th inning, though the run and the loss were credited to the previous pitcher. Those were the only three instances this season in which the right-hander was trusted with either a save situation or a tie, and they all went poorly.

At age 42, Rodney is the oldest active player in the majors by nearly three years, and it showed. Once an All-Star closer who could dial his fastball up to triple-digits in his prime several years ago, his velocity fell a full tick from last season to a new career-low, averaging in the 93-94 mph range. He hit the zone at the lowest rate of his career, induced whiffs at one of his lowest rates ever, and allowed hard contact on nearly half of his batted balls.

Rodney’s most memorable moment in green and gold came last fall in the Wild Card Game. He entered in the 6th inning with the A’s trailing the Yankees 2-0, and he got fearsome slugger Aaron Judge to pound the ball on the ground just a few feet in front of the plate. However, it took an odd, spinny hop and found its way down the first-base line for a BABIP double, and Aaron Hicks then knocked another hit straight through a heavy defensive shift. Rodney was pulled after allowing both of his batters to reach base, and they both scored to help put the game out of reach in an eventual 7-2 loss.

Taking Rodney’s place is Wang, pronounced {wong}. The Taiwanese left-hander was signed last winter as a minor league free agent, and here’s what we had to say about him at that time:

Wang appeared in the majors in 2014 and 2017, both times with the Brewers. The ‘14 stint was just for Rule 5 purposes, as he was 22 and hadn’t yet pitched above Rookie Ball. In ‘17 he converted to relief work, and in MLB that year he faced just nine batters over eight appearances and retired only four of them. In Triple-A that same summer, though, he posted a 2.05 ERA and 4.04 FIP in 57 innings.

Entering his age-27 season, his fastball tops out around 93 mph. He’s got a slider as his other main offering, plus a new cutter he added last year, and control is among his strengths.

After spending 2018 as a starter in Korea, Wang returned to U.S. ball this season and has put up solid numbers as a reliever in Triple-A.

Wang, 2019 AAA: 3.75 ERA, 24 ip, 22 Ks, 6 BB, 4 HR, 4.85 FIP

The addition of Wang finally gives the A’s a second left-hander in the bullpen, something they’ve been searching for dating back to last season to pair with Ryan Buchter. They tried a few other southpaws last summer but none of them stuck, and so far this year Buchter is the only lefty reliever they’ve used — and even he has struggled, after an excellent 2018 campaign.

Hot Takes

Let’s get this out of the way from the start: I didn’t mind the A’s decision to keep Rodney last winter. That puts me in a tiny minority on Athletics Nation, as most of the community wanted nothing to do with paying him over $5 million. Turns out the community had it right and I was wrong, because Rodney appears to be cooked. Everything about his performance this year screams sharp decline, which makes complete sense at his advanced age, and his September 2018 implosion turned out to be foreshadowing rather than a simple season-ending slump.

What I saw in Rodney was a former closer with tons of late-inning experience, who could be overqualified as a middle reliever and serve as emergency backup in save situations. But that was the same logic behind Santiago Casilla in 2017-18, and it went similarly wrong as Rodney’s stuff declined further and he lost track of home plate. Maybe ancient closers aren’t an undervalued commodity after all, especially ones who never had good control in the first place, and it’s time for the A’s to stop spending on them. Brian Fuentes says hi.

That doesn’t mean never get a reliever in his mid-30s. Oakland had great success with 35-year-old Ryan Madson, and this year 35-year-old Joakim Soria has been mostly good. We have wonderful memories of 35-year-old Grant Balfour. But even among that group, Madson and Balfour were each done by age 37. This is a particularly risky demographic, and the A’s have been spending not-insignificant sums to gamble on them.

But what’s done is done, and at least the A’s made the right call now by moving on from a failed investment rather than clinging to a sunk cost. Rodney wasn’t helping the team anymore, and hoping for a 42-year-old to bounce back is an extremely low-percentage play. He’s a fun character and I’d learned to like his boisterous personality after a decade of seeing him as a bitter rival, but at this point I don’t think there’s a single A’s fan who wanted to see more of his pitching.

As for Wang, he’s clearly worth a look in Oakland in a particularly thin area of the roster. Last year they tried out Danny Coulombe, Jeremy Bleich, and Dean Kiekhefer in the second lefty role, but they all washed out. Stay tuned to find out if this latest minor league free agent lotto ticket strikes gold!

Sour grapes

Here’s my best attempt at a bright side in the Rodney Saga. If the A’s hadn’t kept him, then the money may have just gone to a different bad investment. The AN community may have liked to use Rodney’s salary to sign a more expensive starter than Marco Estrada, but the popular names of Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey have been torched as well, along with almost every name on our offseason watch list.

Meanwhile, the starters who have panned out, like Gio Gonzalez, Wade Miley, and Martin Perez, only cost Estrada money or less. If you want to play hindsight with them then your beef is with the Estrada signing (picked the wrong $4M guy) rather than the Rodney option. The A’s were never going to sign a fourth veteran starter to an MLB deal, nor should they have, so there is no such debate as Rodney vs. Miley, etc.

In terms of other relievers, I was in favor of bringing back Shawn Kelley last winter, and indeed he’s off to a nice start this year at half of Rodney’s salary. If Rodney had been let go, then Kelley is the replacement I would have wanted. But most of the other free agents within Rodney’s price range have flopped, and the early successes (like Greg Holland) aren’t names I heard discussed on AN.

In other words, no matter how sure you were that keeping Rodney was a mistake, it’s most likely that whatever else you realistically wanted to do with the money would also have turned out poorly. Except for those of you adamantly wanted to specifically keep Kelley with those savings. Those sour grapes don’t put any extra wins in our ledger, but maybe they’ll help some of us sleep a little bit better.

Updated roster

The new 25-man squad.

Oakland A's 25-man roster
Pitchers Hitters

Frankie Montas (R)
Chris Bassitt (R)
Mike Fiers (R)
Brett Anderson (L)
Daniel Mengden (R)


Blake Treinen (R)
Lou Trivino (R)
Joakim Soria (R)
Ryan Buchter (L)
Yusmeiro Petit (R)
Liam Hendriks (R)
Wei-Chung Wang (L)
Aaron Brooks (R)

Josh Phegley (R)
Nick Hundley (R)


Matt Olson (L)
Jurickson Profar (S)
Marcus Semien (R)
Matt Chapman (R)


Stephen Piscotty (R)
Ramon Laureano (R)
Robbie Grossman (S)
Chad Pinder (R)
Mark Canha (R)
Skye Bolt (S)

10-day IL: RHP Marco Estrada (back), OF Nick Martini (knee), DH Khris Davis (hip/oblique)

60-day IL: RHP Jharel Cotton (TJS), RHP Daniel Gossett (TJS), LHP Sean Manaea (shoulder), C Chris Herrmann (knee)