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Nationals sign T.J. McFarland; only one A’s free agent remains

Oakland had 10 free agents this winter and has brought back 2 of them

Los Angeles Angels v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s entered the offseason with 10 free agents coming off their roster, and nine of them have now found homes for 2021.

The latest is relief pitcher T.J. McFarland, who agreed to a minor league contract with the Washington Nationals, reports Chris Cotillo of MassLive on Wednesday.

The lefty McFarland pitched out of the A’s bullpen last season and provided adequate work over 23 games. His ERA was a tick worse than league average, but he stranded 4-of-5 inherited runners and he never blew a lead en route to seven holds. His signature 59.7% groundball rate ranked 14th-highest in the majors, despite being his lowest mark since 2013.

McFarland, 2020: 4.35 ERA, 20⅔ ip, 9 Ks, 5 BB, 5 HR, 6.34 FIP, .355 xwOBA

Before coming to the Bay Area on a waiver claim last winter, the southpaw spent seven years in the majors split between the Orioles and D’Backs. He’ll turn 32 in June.

Since McFarland’s departure after the season, Oakland has traded for three new lefty pitchers — starter Cole Irvin, and relievers Adam Kolarek and Nik Turley. In particular Kolarek is similar in style to McFarland, with a low arm slot and a reliance more on grounders than strikeouts, but Kolarek has enjoyed far more success in the majors including an 0.95 ERA last summer.

Kolarek, 2020: 0.95 ERA, 19 ip, 13 Ks, 4 BB, 1 HR, 3.14 FIP, .250 xwOBA

Out of their original 10 free agents, so far the A’s have brought back two and said goodbye to seven, with one more still available on the open market. Here’s the list, with salaries rounded to the nearest million. Click here for more info on Fiers, and click here for more on Petit.

  • RHP Mike Fiers — RE-SIGNED (OAK, 1/$4m)
  • RHP Liam Hendriks (CHW, 3/$54m)
  • RHP Yusmeiro Petit — RE-SIGNED (OAK, 1/$3m)
  • RHP Joakim Soria (ARZ, 1/$4m)
  • LHP T.J. McFarland (WAS, minors deal)
  • LHP Mike Minor (KCR, 2/$18m)
  • 2B Tommy La Stella (SFG, 3/$19m)
  • SS Marcus Semien (TOR, 1/$18m)
  • 3B Jake Lamb
  • OF Robbie Grossman (DET, 2/$10m)

With such heavy losses from their division-winning 2020 roster, Oakland has brought in several replacements. Elvis Andrus was acquired to play SS in place of Semien; Sergio Romo is a good comp for Soria; Adam Kolarek is effectively an upgrade over McFarland; and Jed Lowrie, if healthy, could resemble La Stella, who plays 2B but should really be a DH. (Click the links on each name for more info.)

The others will more likely be replaced from within. Jake Diekman is a candidate to inherit the closer role from Hendriks, after a breakout campaign that got the lefty a nomination for the All-MLB Team, and there are prospects (or perhaps Cole Irvin) on hand for Minor’s swingman duties. Some combination of Tony Kemp, Vimael Machin, and Chad Pinder figures to return to second base in lieu of La Stella. And there are a half-dozen prospects who could battle for Grossman’s old job this spring, including Seth Brown and Rule 5 draft pick Ka’ai Tom.

And then there’s Lamb. He was only acquired in September as an emergency replacement for an injured Matt Chapman at third base, and that’s no longer something the team needs now that Chapman’s health appears to be back on track. But Lamb played quite well for the A’s in 13 games down the stretch, showing the power that his underlying metrics suggested had been there all along despite three years of injuries and slumps.

Hot take: Oakland did just open up their DH spot by trading away Khris Davis, and there’s no guarantee Lowrie or any of the prospects will be ready to fill it on Opening Day. If Lamb can be had on a minor league contract with no risk, I wouldn’t mind rolling the dice on his lefty bat again after last year’s audition (.267/.327/.556, 141 wRC+, .328 xwOBA). And more infield depth wouldn’t hurt either. It’s not something they need to do by any means, but it couldn’t hurt and could have upside.