Earlier this week, we examined the Oakland A's remaining off-season checklist. One of the main items left on that checklist was another starting pitcher. While I surmised that the A's would target a reliable innings-eater to bring some stability to a rotation filled with talented starters with injury questions, the A's have reportedly gone in a different direction. According to several media reports, the A's have agreed to terms with free agent Henderson Alvarez on a one-year deal. Jon Heyman of CBSSports was the first to report the deal.
Alvarez, 25, is one of the most talented starters still left on the free agent market, but he comes with significant risk. The right-hander missed all but the first few weeks of last season with an injury that eventually required surgery on his right shoulder. Alvarez is expected to start the 2016 season on the disabled list and the A's won't know what they have from him for awhile.
The upside of signing Alvarez is obvious. The native of Venezuela made his major league debut against the A's in August 2011 as a 21-year-old with the Toronto Blue Jays. After making 31 starts for Toronto in 2012, Alvarez was part of the mega deal with the Marlins that sent Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle and others to Toronto. Alvarez missed half of the 2013 season with shoulder soreness, but from midway through the 2013 season through the end of the 2014 campaign, he was a reliable workhorse for Miami. In 2014, he finished the year with a 2.65 ERA in 187 innings.
Alvarez is a sinkerball pitcher who doesn't strike-out a lot of batters but works quickly and deep into games. He has a career groundball rate of 55%. Alvarez doesn't walk many batters (2.06 per nine for his career). Despite not having great strike-out numbers (4.7 per nine innings for his career), Alvarez is far from a soft-tosser. When healthy, his four-seam fastball can touch 95 and his sinker sits comfortably in the low-90s. He also throws a hard slider, a change-up and a cut-fastball.
According to Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, the A's have guaranteed Alvarez a little more than $4 million for this season with another $1.6 million available in incentives. Since Alvarez was non-tendered by the Marlins, he will be under the A's control as an arbitration-eligible player next year. Alvarez turns 26 in April and, assuming he can recover from his shoulder injury, should be heading into the prime of his career.
The downside of this acquisition is that Alvarez adds another injury question-mark to a rotation that is full of them. Right now, the A's have only two starters who didn't miss significant time with injury last year and one of them -- Rich Hill -- only pitched in the big leagues in September. However, given that Alvarez is expected to start the year on the DL, the A's now have the flexibility to "pair" him with a starter that the A's anticipate will need to have his innings monitored, such as Jesse Hahn, Sean Nolin or Jarrod Parker. Hill himself may need to have his innings monitored, as he threw only roughly 100 innings last year between independent and affiliated baseball.
The A's have had mixed results investing in players with injury histories, but they have tended to do better with those investments when they have come in pitchers rather than position players. If Alvarez can return to his 2014 form next season, the A's will have an absolute bargin on their hands given the current cost of starting pitching on the free market.