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A’s DFA pitcher Paul Blackburn

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Move makes room for Mitch Moreland to join 40-man roster

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers - Game One Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

All of the Oakland A’s new free agent signings are now official, and so are the corresponding roster moves.

The A’s announced their one-year contract with DH Mitch Moreland on Tuesday, and to make room on the 40-man roster they designated pitcher Paul Blackburn for assignment. He must either be traded or placed on waivers within the next week.

Oakland had already officially announced the signings of relievers Sergio Romo, Yusmeiro Petit, and Trevor Rosenthal, and now Moreland joins them. With roster space needed, outfielder Dustin Fowler was also DFA’d on Tuesday, and infielder Nate Orf retired last week.

As for Blackburn, the right-hander pitched in four seasons for the green and gold, after being acquired from the Mariners ahead of 2017 for Danny Valencia. The Bay Area product was a 1st-round draft pick by Seattle out of Heritage High School in Brentwood and made his MLB debut at age 23, and his rookie year yielded promising results, but he never recaptured that magic.

Some injuries got in the way, and whenever he did get another healthy chance in the majors he got knocked around. He pitched only 11 total games for the A’s from 2018-20 combined.

  • Blackburn, 2017: 3.22 ERA, 58⅔ ip, 22 Ks, 16 BB, 5 HR, 4.39 FIP, .334 xwOBA
  • Blackburn, 18-20: 9.22 ERA, 41 ip, 29 Ks, 12 BB, 5 HR, 4.44 FIP, .344 xwOBA

His peripheral metrics stayed oddly consistent in both splits, as a reminder to beware of small samples, but his xwOBA is notably worse than the league-average for pitchers (which is around the .315-.325 range).

At age 27, Blackburn still has a chance to make adjustments and find success, and indeed his solid FIP and low exit velocities offer some promise despite low velocity. But all the eyeball test saw in Oakland was occasional glimpses of him getting lit up for three years in a row, and in the meantime a stable of higher-ceiling prospects has emerged around him to fill up the 2021 depth chart.

After the A’s starting five of Bassitt, Luzardo, Manaea, Montas, and Fiers, they also have recent acquisition Cole Irvin, and in-house MLB-readyish youngsters Daulton Jefferies, James Kaprielian, and Grant Holmes already on the roster. You can never have too much pitching, unless you’re the pitcher in danger of being 10th in line for the rotation. Or 11th, if somehow A.J. Puk does manage to start instead of working in the pen.

While all the new free agents are now accounted for and officially on the roster, there is still one more 40-man move imminently on the horizon. Frankie Montas will likely need to be activated from the COVID-19 related injured list at some point in the near future, and he’ll need his roster spot back, which means another player will have to be removed.

Analysis

I like beards and I like it when local players are on their hometown teams, so I was always rooting for Blackburn. Unfortunately it didn’t work out for him here long-term.

When the A’s signed Petit and Romo, I made two guesses about the players who would be cut to make room. But the decision got kicked down the road, because Montas got coronavirus and Orf suddenly retired. Then Oakland signed two more free agents in Moreland and Rosenthal, and this time my guesses of Blackburn and Fowler were correct.

Of course, a DFA doesn’t always mean a player leaves. Sometimes they clear waivers and stick around in Triple-A, like Liam Hendriks did, and the A’s wouldn’t have given Blackburn this many chances over the years if they didn’t like him a lot. Starting pitching was expensive this winter so I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rebuilding team take a flyer on him, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up in Las Vegas pitching for the Aviators. We’ll find out in the next week!