The Oakland A’s signed a relief pitcher this week, one with MLB experience, and they did it in typically under-the-radar fashion.
The A’s inked right-hander Deolis Guerra to a minor league contract, the team announced Tuesday. He’s not on the 40-man roster, but is a non-roster invitee to spring training.
Oakland hasn’t picked up a single free agent on a major league deal this winter, making Guerra the most accomplished pitcher they’ve signed so far. He’s spent parts of five seasons in the majors and logged 103 innings, which is nearly as many as all the A’s other offseason acquisitions combined — two cash trades (Turley, Irvin), a Rule 5 pick (Jimenez), and two other minor league signings (Guduan, DuRapau), totaling 128 career frames.
The beginning of Guerra’s MLB career came in 2015 with the Pirates, but his best years were with the Angels. As a Rule 5 pick in 2016 he posted a 3.21 ERA (126 ERA+) backed up by a good FIP and a league-average Statcast xwOBA, with more than five strikeouts per walk, though he did blow a few leads and let some inherited runners score. He took a step back in 2017 but was still serviceable over 25 frames.
- Guerra, 2016: 3.21 ERA, 53⅓, 36 Ks, 7 BB, 6 HR, 3.76 FIP, .315 xwOBA
After leaving the Halos he spent 2018 in the minors but got back to the bigs in 2019 with the Brewers, and again last summer with the Phillies, though he got knocked around both times in limited duty. He’ll pitch at age 32 this summer.
- Guerra, career: 4.81 ERA, 103 ip, 83 Ks, 24 BB, 19 HR, 4.78 FIP, .321 xwOBA
While Guerra’s overall career line doesn’t jump off the page, with an 84 ERA+ and a lackluster FIP to match, there are a couple positives. His strikeouts are low but his walks are even lower, so his 3.5 K/BB rate is strong, and Statcast has him much closer to average than his traditional stats suggest.
In terms of stuff, he relies mostly on two pitches, in even measure. His four-seam fastball averages in the 91-92 mph range and tops out just over 93, and his changeup has nearly 10 miles of separation in velocity. He also mixes in a breaking ball now and then.
There’s no such thing as a bad minor league signing. If such a player gets hammered in the spring then you can cut them or stash them in the minors for org depth, so there’s no risk attached. If they play well and win a job, then you filled a roster spot for free. Guerra is betting on himself to get back to the bigs, and the A’s are calling the bet to see if he can do it. Why not?
Normally I wouldn’t do a whole article for one non-roster signing like this, but Guerra gets attention for two reasons. First, it’s been such a slow offseason that even this is a relatively notable move. Second, the bullpen is such a wide-open competition that he’s got a realistic path to the majors.
As I’ve said before, there are two types of A’s minor league scrap-heap pitching flyers: those with a hidden upside waiting to break out, and those who could quietly offer cheap adequate innings. Guerra is the latter, which is still something Oakland needs right now. Don’t expect some sudden upside to appear, but he’s been effective in the majors before, and he’s got decent spin on his fastball and a good changeup and we’ve seen this team find success with those tools.
Every year, at least one reliever shows up out of nowhere to make a difference on the A’s. Maybe it’ll be Guerra this summer, holding down a steady spot in middle relief while the rest of the evolving bullpen figures itself out. If not, no worries.
Time for an updated look at the bullpen depth chart! This does not include any current starters who might see work in the pen, like James Kaprielian did last summer.
In the first tier, those who played in MLB last year and are now on the 40-man roster.
- LHP Jake Diekman, likely closer
- RHP J.B. Wendelken (out of options)
- LHP Nik Turley (out of options)
- RHP Dany Jimenez (Rule 5 pick)
- RHP Burch Smith
- RHP Lou Trivino
- RHP Jordan Weems
Next tier, on the 40-man but haven’t debuted in the majors.
- RHP Wandisson Charles
- RHP Miguel Romero
Final tier, non-roster invitees who have MLB experience, in order of career innings. If they win a job out of spring, then a move will need to be made to add them to the 40-man.
- RHP Deolis Guerra
- RHP Brian Schlitter (re-signed for third year in A’s org)
- LHP Reymin Guduan
- RHP Montana DuRapau
Beyond that list are minor league prospects and non-roster minor league signings who aren’t part of the spring competition at the moment.
Hot take: You might reasonably look at this depth chart as underwhelming, but I see opportunity. This is how you build a bullpen on a budget, even if we all have a list of cheap names we wish the A’s had also added this winter.
There’s quite a bit of upside mixed in, and some of it we’ve seen with our own eyes. There’s emergency depth if necessary as well. It could all go spectacularly wrong, but so can expensive free agents, with great frequency. Or, 2020 All-MLB Team finalist Diekman could be the next All-Star closer, Wendelken and a couple friends could form a new lockdown setup crew, and the whole pen could be fully functional on basically a minimum salary. Wouldn’t be that crazy at all.
(A couple more Turley/Guerra-type additions wouldn’t hurt though.)