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A’s sign pitcher Parker Markel to minor league contract

A baseball transaction!

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Pittsburgh Pirates v Colorado Rockies Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

It’s Day 94 of the MLB lockout, and we haven’t had a whiff of real baseball news in weeks. No trades, no free agent rumors, no spring training. What are the latest proposals for the Competitive Balance Tax? Any celebrities seen wearing Oakland A’s gear lately?

Hold on, what’s that? Avast! On the horizon, just beyond those administrative stadium updates! Could it be? Yes, I think it is. The A’s signed a baseball player!

It’s only a minor league contract, since that’s all that’s allowed right now. It’s for a 31-year-old who has barely played in the majors. But it’s a transaction. Sweet, sweet news.

The A’s signed pitcher Parker Markel to a minors deal, reported Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors on Friday.

The right-handed Markel has spent more than a decade in the pros, mostly as a reliever. He was a 39th-round draft pick by the Rays in 2010 and made it as far as Triple-A in seven seasons in their organization. From there he briefly played overseas in Korea, and pitched a summer in an independent league in Sioux City, before returning to affiliated ball with the Mariners ahead of 2019.

He finally saw MLB action that year, just shy of his 29th birthday. He tossed a few innings for Seattle, then moved to Pittsburgh on waivers and appeared in 15 games for the Pirates, all out of the bullpen.

  • Markel, 2019 MLB: 7.77 ERA, 22 ip, 24 Ks, 17 BB, 6 HR, 26 hits, 7.30 FIP

That ERA might not look like much in the majors, but if he heads to Triple-A Las Vegas then it could be worth quite a lot on the right slot machine. It’s all about finding the hidden value in minor league signings.

Most recently, Markel spent 2021 in Triple-A for the Padres, and his results offer an accurate representation of his time in the minors since coming back from Indy Ball. He racks up tons of strikeouts, but issues too many walks.

  • Markel, 2021 AAA: 4.42 ERA, 57 ip, 91 Ks, 45 BB, 7 HR, 38 hits, 4.86 FIP

Those numbers come with the context that his home stadium of El Paso is one of the most notorious hitter’s parks in the universe, and indeed he fared much better on the road despite nearly identical K/BB rates in each split. Oddly, he allowed almost all of his homers on the road, but more notable is that for most of his pro career he served up virtually no dingers anywhere.

In terms of stuff, during his brief stint in the majors he relied mostly on his slider and four-seam fastball. The slider got primary billing and was effective in generating whiffs and inducing weak contact. The heater averaged 95.6 mph with a high of 97.5 and it got destroyed, just mercilessly crushed by all who faced it. There was also an occasional sinker and changeup.

Throughout all of it, Markel appears to have avoided any major arm injuries. He’s only landed on the injured list three times in the minors, never for very long, and only once since 2014. However, he did suffer a concussion and a ruptured eardrum in Indy Ball in 2018, when he was hit by a ball during batting practice.

On the personal side of Markel’s journey, Corey Brock of The Athletic writes about how the pitcher signed to play in the KBO for the Lotte Giants in 2017, but ultimately requested his release due to anxiety issues and appeared in just one exhibition game for the team. He ended up taking that year off of baseball and working at a Lululemon store and a hot air balloon company.

Analysis

As with all minor league signings: Why not take a free spin and see what he can do? Markel hasn’t stuck in the majors yet, but he’s got eye-popping strikeout numbers, a plus offering in his slider that can miss bats against top competition, and a backstory of perseverance. That’s enough to work with on a non-roster deal with no risk or commitment.

Depending how trade season goes when the lockout ends, the A’s might be starting from nearly scratch on their pitching staff. There should be plenty of opportunity for anybody who can seize it, and some hidden gems might emerge, like Cole Irvin and Deolis Guerra last summer. Maybe Markel will be the next jackpot! Or maybe he won’t. But add him to the list of bullpen lotto tickets for this year.

One way or other, Markel is a pro baseball player who signed a contract to play baseball for the A’s, and that’s the kind of news we need right now.