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Elephant Rumblings: Cheap relief pitchers coming off free agent board quickly

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Kenyan Middleton to the Seattle Mariners for around 40% more than minimum wage
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Good morning afternoon, Athletics Nation!

The MLB offseason has been slow so far, especially among the biggest names on the free agent market. The largest contract so far is a 4yr/$40m deal between the Mets and catcher James McCann, the 16th-best available name. Nobody else has scored more than two years or $20 million, but surely we’ll see some major money spent at some point this winter.

That money won’t come from the Oakland A’s, though, from the sound of it. They have a core of young stars and a real chance to compete in 2021, but they’ll have to be active on the scrap heap in order to reinforce a roster that’s been shredded by free agency. And in that regard, there’s no time to waste, because the best bargains are quickly drying up.

A couple weeks ago, I offered a list of a half-dozen relief pitchers who were non-tendered by their 2020 teams, and looked like promising gambles for 2021 who could be had for barely more than league minimum salary. All six were righties, and there was a lefty honorable mention at the end (Claudio). Let’s see how that list is faring so far:

  • Matt Andriese
  • Alex Claudio (LAA, 1yr/$1.1m)
  • A.J. Cole
  • Kenyan Middleton (SEA, 1yr/$0.8m)
  • Ryan Tepera
  • Nick Tropeano
  • Matt Wisler (SFG, 1yr/$1.2m)

That’s three outta seven off the board already, and it’s only been 16 days since I published that article. Worse, two of them went to AL West division rivals, and the other to the Giants. Middleton was the second-most popular name on the list, in our community poll of nearly 500 votes. (Cole was the favorite, at 35% of the vote.)

Of course, there are many other names available beyond these seven, so perhaps there are different cheap targets you prefer. But there’s no question that the A’s need to add somebody, because there are at least four or five open spots in their bullpen right now even after adding a Rule 5 pick — everyone else except Jake Diekman and J.B. Wendelken can be stashed in Triple-A to begin the season if needed. The only thing you can ever know for sure about your Opening Day bullpen is that it won’t be enough, and you’ll need as much help as possible for whatever unforeseen things go wrong, so it’s critical they beef up their depth chart this offseason.

There are great deals to be had on enticing, high-ceiling bullpen sleepers right now. If you want to build a contender on a budget, including finding an entirely new late-inning setup crew, then missing out on the rest of these cheap opportunities could be a costly mistake. So far they’re disappearing at a rate of roughly one every five days, so, don’t blink.

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Wishing the best to former A’s pitcher Lasorda!

A few notable minor league signings

... and one more affordable reliever gamble by the Giants