The Oakland A's were 19-35 in one-run games and finished nine games under their pythagorean record in 2015. Oakland's front office is clearly focused this off-season on making sure the A's are better equipped to compete in the late-innings of close games in 2016. In recent weeks, the A's have added relievers Liam Hendriks and Marc Rzepczynski through trades. Now Oakland has agreed to terms with sought-after reliever Ryan Madson on a three-year deal free agent deal. The deal is worth a reported $22 million and includes incentives if Madson finishes a certain number of games.
News of the deal broke early on Sunday and was initially reported by Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle and Jane Lee of MLB.com both confirmed the deal, which is pending a physical. The A's reportedly beat out several teams for Madson's services, including the deep-pocketed Los Angeles Dodgers.
Madson is coming off of a remarkable season with the World Champion Kansas City Royals. The right-hander was a non-roster invitee to the Royals' spring training and he pitched his way into an important role with the best bullpen in baseball. In 63.1 innings, Madson had a 2.13 ERA and a 58:14 K:BB. His FIP was 3.09. This was Madson's first healthy season since 2011, when he saved 32 games for the Philadelphia Phillies. He had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and had several set-backs in his recovery before finally returning to the big leagues this year.
According to Pitch F/X, Madson's fastball averaged 94 MPH last season and topped out at 98. His velocity increased as the season went on and his change-up was a plus pitch. He allowed just five homers all season. The A's bullpen struggled to prevent the longball all year.
Madson joins Hendriks as a legitimate right-handed eighth-inning option for the A's in front of closer Sean Doolittle. Madson also has plenty of experience closing and could move into a ninth inning role if Doolittle runs into injury problems again next season. With Madson, Hendriks and Rzepczynski added to the A's relief mix, Oakland looks to have a much more stable bullpen going into 2016.
Of course, the A's thought they had a similarly stable bullpen going into the 2015 season. The A's lost Luke Gregerson to free agency last off-season, but they acquired set-up man Tyler Clippard to take Gregerson's place. The rest of the A's bullpen returned from a 2014 unit that was one of the better bullpens in the American League and the A's expected their bullpen to be one of the team's strengths. However, Doolittle went down with an injury before spring training began and the unit never recovered from his loss. With Clippard in a closer's role instead of a set-up role, the A's had trouble making it through the seventh and eighth inning with leads all season long. Former stalwarts Ryan Cook and Dan Otero ended up spending significant time in Triple-A thanks to their struggles and neither pitcher is still with the club.
Since the end of the season, the A's have said good-bye to Otero, Pat Venditte and Fernando Abad from their 2015 bullpen (as well as swingman Drew Pomeranz). The A's hope that the addition of Madson, Hendriks and Rzepczynski will turn the A's bullpen from one of the AL's worst to one of the AL's best units in 2016.
It may seem curious that the small-budget A's are investing more than $7 million a year for three years on a set-up man, but spending big on veteran relievers is nothing new for Oakland. In recent years, the A's have acquired Gregerson, Clippard and Jim Johnson in trades and all three came in near the top of the A's salary list. Former closer Grant Balfour was one of the better paid pitchers on the A's staff during his tenure with the team, as well, and the A's also spent big on veteran reliever Brian Fuentes before the 2011 season. The investments in Johnson and Fuentes turned out to be mistakes, but Balfour, Gregerson and Clippard wound-up earning their salaries.
The A's are not likely finished on the trade or free agent front despite an already busy winter that has netted them the three aforementioned pitchers, as well as starter Rich Hill and first baseman Yonder Alonso. Slusser reported on Sunday that the A's were one of the teams bidding on free agent starter Scott Kazmir and the A's haven't made it secret that they intend to improve their rotation. Oakland was also linked to Korean slugger Hyun-Soo Kim, according to the Yonhap News. The soon-to-be 29-year-old corner outfielder is a free agent and wouldn't require a posting fee. He is a career .318/.406/.488 hitter in the KBO.
The Winter Meetings are this week in Nashville.