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Elephant Rumblings: Sizing up the 2023 bullpen

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Friday, Athletics Nation!

Much has been made of the abundance of starter depth that the A’s have been cultivating during the current rebuild cycle. But what of the pen? Melissa Lockard at The Athletic considered this question yesterday in a piece on the A’s bullpen outlook for 2023.

Lockard notes that the A’s relief corps may have been the team’s strongest (or least weak) unit in 2022, with solid showings from the likes of Dany Jiménez, Zach Jackson, Sam Moll, A.J. Puk, and Domingo Acevedo. Injuries took a toll on the bullpen as the season wore on, but the A’s expect their relief contingent to open the 2023 season at full strength.

A key question posed by Lockard is who will replace Puk if the former top A’s prospect winds up back in the rotation this season. There are plenty of options, though they are almost all righties, while Puk is a southpaw. Lockard likes new acquisitions Trevor May and Chad Smith as well as Deolis Guerra, who has recovered from injury after missing all of last season.

The A’s reliever depth is a bit light on lefties, especially if Puk and J.P. Sears both make the rotation. That would leave only Moll and Kirby Snead to represent southpaws in the pen. But newly acquired minor-leaguers Garret Williams and Jake Fishman could potentially work their way up as reinforcements.

The most intriguing question may be, “Who plays the closing role?”

Jiménez did a great job early in the 2022 season, but walks caught up with him (4.72 BB/9 in 2022) and he struggled before succumbing to a season-ending injury late in August. Lockard postulates that the job is probably still Dany’s to lose, but Jackson, May, and Smith could also be in the mix for ninth inning duties. Hard-throwing prospects Luis Medina, Jorge Juan, and Trey Supac could be viable in the future.

The A’s starter depth should overlap substantially with the team’s bullpen needs, so there are a lot of possibilities. Sound off on how you’d manage the A’s bullpen this season in the comments below!

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