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A’s sign reliever Sergio Romo to one-year contract

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Suddenly the bullpen is looking strong again

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins
Yeah I think there’s a chance Romo might have enough personality to fit in here
Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s bullpen was ravaged by free agency at the beginning of this winter, losing four relievers including their star closer. However, a late surge of additions was capped off Sunday night with one more particularly impactful pickup.

The A’s signed free agent reliever Sergio Romo to a one-year contract, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. It’s a $2.25 million deal, adds Jeff Passan of ESPN.

The Romo news came just 19 minutes after word that Oakland had also brought back their own free agent reliever Yusmeiro Petit on a similar one-year pact. Plus, two days ago they acquired lefty Adam Kolarek from the Dodgers.

For 13 seasons now, Romo has simply been one of the better relievers in the majors. He spent nearly a decade with the Giants and won three rings, including a stint as an All-Star closer. He kept earning saves with the Rays in 2018 and Marlins in 2019, and then settled in as a reliable setup man for the division-winning Twins through the end of 2020.

Romo, 2019-20: 3.59 ERA, 80⅓ ip, 83 Ks, 24 BB, 10 HR, 3.84 FIP, .280 xwOBA

For his career he’s converted 134 saves and 188 holds with only 31 blown, a sterling 91% success rate. More recently, in the last two seasons, he’s converted 52 save/holds with only four blown (93%). He’s also been excellent with inherited runners, allowing a low rate of 26% to score for his career, though he can be volatile in that regard year by year — for example, he let through only 4-of-20 in 2019, but then surrendered all six he inherited last summer.

Entering age 38, Romo is still chugging along as a consistently effective late-inning reliever. He’s never been a hard thrower, averaging in the high-80s with his fastball as far back as 2012, and even as that number has crept down under 86 mph he’s continued to record outs. That’s partly because his primary weapon is his devastating slider, which he throws over half the time and dialed up to a career-high 64.8% usage last summer. Mix in a changeup too, and he’s been able to sit down hitters on both sides of the plate and avoid notable platoon splits overall.

The A’s bullpen now includes the following names: Jake Diekman, Romo, Petit, Kolarek, J.B. Wendelken, Lou Trivino, and Nik Turley, as well as many more sleeper candidates such as Jordan Weems, Burch Smith, and Rule 5 draft pick Dany Jimenez.

However, the 40-man roster was already full before Sunday’s two signings, which means corresponding moves will need to be made to remove two players and make room for Petit and Romo.

Analysis

Another great bullpen addition, on another reasonable salary. I don’t like paying big bucks for relievers, but I do like paying $2 million for an experienced late-inning arm who rarely gets hurt and never has a bad year.

The A’s were never going to replace Liam Hendriks because there isn’t really another closer like him right now, and if there was then apparently he’d cost over $50 million, but they did manage to replace setup men Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit on the cheap. They took care of Petit by just bringing him back, and Romo can slide into the Soria role, for which he’s a good comp — and arguably an upgrade, though Soria is coming off a better 2020. The fourth reliever they lost was middle-inning lefty T.J. McFarland, and Kolarek is essentially an upgraded version of McFarland’s profile.

Romo’s surface numbers last year were some of the worst he’s ever put up, and even then he was still better than average. Statcast says he was even better than that and every bit the force he’s been for the last half-decade, with low exit velocity and strong whiff and strikeout rates. One day he’ll finally decline, but it hasn’t happened yet and at this moment he’s a quality addition to the A’s late-inning crew.

For some reason, it always seemed like Romo would end up in Oakland eventually. They’ve been connected in rumors before, and he’s the kind of advanced-metric darling who is often available on what seem like bargain salaries. Now it’s finally happened, and he’s here to help a contending 2021 A’s team — and one whose bullpen suddenly looks pretty good.

If you’ve got a spare $5 million to spend, and the bullpen is your biggest need, especially late-inning experience, then Romo and Petit are a darn good haul.