Looking Ahead: 2005 A's Bullpen

The Oakland A's bullpen has been a source of anxiety all season for the A's and their fans. Wholesale changes are likely for next season. Adam Miller takes a look at who A's fans might expect to see down in the bullpen next year.

2005 Bullpen Outlook As is the norm for the A's, the 2005 bullpen will most likely look markedly different from the 2004 version. A number of Oakland bullpen regulars in the final year of their contract, and most of those players will not be retained. Here are the players that have pitched in relief in 2004, with their contract status detailed (thanks to Dugout Dollars for the contract info):



2004 Salary

2005 Salary

2006 Salary

Chad Bradford



Octavio Dotel



Justin Duchscherer



Jairo Garcia



Chris Hammond



$3.00M ($200K buyout)

Justin Lehr



Jim Mecir



Arthur Rhodes





Ricardo Rincon




Kirk Saarloos



I'm guessing Oakland will exercise Hammond's buyout – the Yankees picked up the majority of his 2004 salary as part of their trade for Edwardo Sierra and J.T. Stotts, and Mecir will either retire or not be re-signed. That leaves 8 pitchers – Bradford, Dotel, Duchsherer, Garcia, Lehr, Rhodes, Rincon, and Saarloos – in the mix for what will probably be 7 relief spots in the 2005 bullpen.

I'd actually add four more names into the mix, who I'll discuss a bit later in further detail: Chris Mabeus, Marcus Gwyn, Shawn Kohn, and Huston Street. That makes 12 pitchers for 7 spots. Here's my best guess at what will happen:

2005 Bullpen Locks

Justin Duchscherer – The Duke, his recent week notwithstanding, has been perhaps the A's most valuable reliever in 2004. He's able to fill a utility-man role for Oakland, pitching as a long-reliever, a spot starter, or a mid-innings eater…and all while posting some excellent peripheral stats: in 88.1 IP with the A's (in 2003 and 2004), Duchsherer has put up a 3.16 ERA, a 2.38 K/BB ratio, and an OPS against of .665. He's had some problems with the longball this year – 8 homeruns in only 72.2 innings – but he's been invaluable throughout the season. The best part? He's relatively young (26) and cheap (only $300K this year). There's the outside chance that Justin steps into the rotation for a bit if the A's trade one of their starters in the offseason, but he's a 25-man roster lock, barring injury.

Ricardo Rincon – Rincon's name was thrown around in a rumored trade with Philadelphia for Placido Polanco at the non-waiver trading deadline, but he was ultimately kept by the A's. Although he struggled at the beginning of the season when forced out of the situational lefty role (17.1 IP, 6.23 ERA, 18 K, 11 BB, 22 H pre-Dotel), he's been lights-out since returning to the lefty-specialist role (14.2 IP, 1.23 ERA, 13 K, 4 BB, 10 H post-Dotel). 2004 has been perhaps his best season versus left-handed batters; they're hitting a ridiculously low .183/.206/.250 against Rincon in 2004 (.456 OPS), which is significantly better than his 2001-03 line of .205/.251/.305 (.556 OPS). The $1.95 million in 2005 may be a bit expensive for the A's budget for what is essentially a situational reliever, but with a dearth of other left-handed options, Rincon will most likely be brought back.

A Good Chance at Making the 2005 Bullpen

Chad Bradford – Bradford is essentially the mirror image of Ricardo Rincon; a righty-specialist who should be used situationally. He's been a groundball machine since becoming a major league regular with Oakland in 2001, with a groundball/flyball ratio of over 3.03 in every major league season thus far. Right-handed batters have hit only .215/.252/.308 versus Bradford in 2004, which is right in line with his career numbers of .231/.266/.312. He's also seen his ERA drop nearly 1.5 runs since the Dotel acquisition. The dropoff this year has been in innings pitched due to a lingering back injury that first surfaced in spring training. That injury might allow the A's to keep Bradford at something close to his 2004 salary of just under $1 million, if he's not replaced by another similar pitcher (see Shawn Kohn, below) for much less money.

Octavio Dotel – In 2004, Dotel hasn't been quite the dominant pitcher that he was in his prime in Houston (2001-03). During those years, batters hit a measly .182/.262/.290 against Dotel, while he struck out 265 hitters in 219 IP. Aside from his strikeout rate, almost all of his key statistics are down in 2004. He's still an excellent reliever, but may be starting the downward trend in his career. Dotel is cheap in 2004 (only $1.55 million), and might get expensive for 2005 and beyond. If the A's re-sign him, it will most likely be to only a short-term deal (3 years or less). He also might command more money than the A's are willing to pay, especially with a young Octavio Dotel-in-waiting (Jairo Garcia) already in the fold.

Jairo Garcia – We've been following the progress of Garcia here at the Insiders for a few months now, and it's been nice to see him rocket through the A's system in 2004 after being converted to a full-time reliever before the season. His numbers in the minors this year were eye-popping: 53 IP, 0.68 ERA, 91 K, 28 H, 21 BB. When your strikeouts (91) almost double your combined hits, walks, and earned runs allowed (53), you're doing something right. Garcia combines a fastball that is consistently in the mid- to high-90s with a high-80s slider, a high-80s splitter, and a low-80s changeup. Although Jairo (pronounced HIGH-row) has struggled a bit in his 3 major leagues appearances thus far (allowing his first homerun since 2002(!) last week), he should be fine once he adjusts to the major leagues. The best part? He's 21 and he's cheap. The only way he's not a lock for the 2005 bullpen is if he bombs in the majors this year.

2005 Status Up in the Air

Justin Lehr – Lehr was called up in June after pitching very well at AAA Sacramento to start the season when the A's bullpen was in flux. He started off well – not allowing a run in his first five appearances – but his minor league track record appears to have caught up with him. Lehr's Sacramento stats were out-of-line with his career numbers: 32 IP, 1.97 ERA, 38 K, 10 BB, 28 H for the RiverCats in 2004, compared to 531 IP, 4.34 ERA, 407 K, 167 BB, and 598 H in four previous minor league seasons as both a starter and a reliever. Lehr now sits with an ERA over 5 for the big club, accompanied by poor K/9 and K/BB ratios. If he doesn't start pitching better, Lehr's major league status in 2004 and 2005 is less than certain, especially with Bradford and Rhodes set to return in the near future.

Arthur Rhodes – Originally signed to a back-loaded 3-year deal for just over $9 million to be the A's replacement for Keith Foulke at closer, Rhodes struggled mightily in that role, prompting the late-June trade for Dotel that saw Rhodes take an extended trip to the DL soon afterwards. Rhodes was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2001 and 2002 with Seattle; in 137.2 IP, Arthur put up a 2.03 ERA, with 164 K, only 25 BB, 91 H, and an OPS against in the low .500s. An ankle injury in 2003 hampered his production, and the A's were betting that he could regain his previous, injury-free form. While I'm sure the A's would love to rid themselves of his albatross of a contract, they may have a tough time finding any takers.

Kirk Saarloos – We've discussed Saarloos in detail in a previous Player Spotlight here. The A's had monitored Saarloos after missing out on him in the 2001 draft, and were finally able to acquire him for Chad Harville early in the season. Kirk was placed on the DL in early August with bone spurs in his elbow, but pitched well in 3 of his 5 starts prior to his injury while filling in for an injured Tim Hudson. Saarloos will never be a power pitcher – he's definitely closer to his idol Greg Maddux than Roger Clemens – but he could provide the A's Justin Duchsherer-like production as a do-everything type pitcher out of the bullpen. And again, he's young and cheap. There just might not be any room for him on the 25-man roster in 2005.

Possible Newcomers

Shawn Kohn – Kohn has steadily progressed through the A's minor league system since being plucked in the 22nd round of the 2002 draft out of the University of Washington, moving all the way up to AAA Sacramento in mid-2004. He's struggled with the longball in Sacramento (7 HR in 40.2 IP in Sacramento, after allowing only 7 HR in 140.1 previous minor league innings), but his outstanding control has remained throughout. In 181 minor league innings, Kohn has only issued 30 BBs (1.49 BB/9) against 171 K for an incredible 5.70 K/BB ratio in the minors, along with a very solid 8.50 K/9 rate and 3.28 ERA. His only problem? Kohn is a very similar pitcher to current Athletic Chad Bradford. Both are right-handed submariners, and there's only so much room in one major league bullpen for right-handed submariners. At 24, Oakland hopes that Kohn is a young Bradford, and that he will make Bradford and his increasing salary expendable in the near future.

Chris Mabeus – Mabeus hails from Soldotna, Alaska, and attended NAIA powerhouse Lewis-Clark State College before being selected by the A's in round 13 of the 2001 amateur draft. Lewis-Clark State College has been an Oakland pipeline in recent years: after trading for former Warrior Keith Foulke prior to 2003, the A's selected two more players from Lewis-Clark in the 2004 draft (Tyler Best and Scott Fairbanks). Although Mabeus was grabbed by Texas in the 2003 Rule 5 draft, he was returned to Oakland after Texas couldn't find room for him on their major league roster. Since being promoted to AAA Sacramento in mid-2004, Mabeus has posted excellent numbers: 37.1 IP, 2.89 ERA, 39 K, and 11 BB. His ratios have been consistently solid (3.52 ERA, 2.99 K/BB, 7.81 K/9, 2.61 BB/9) throughout the minors, and he does a good job with avoiding the homerun (only 11 HRs in 268.2 IP). Chris throws a sinking fastball in the low-90s, and complements it with a decent slider. If he performs well in 2005 spring training, Mabeus could make the major league roster.

Huston Street – Street is the wildcard of this bunch. Drafted as a college reliever out of Texas, Street is a former College World Series MVP who was dominating against top-level college competition: in 169.2 IP, he put up a 1.27 ERA with 166 K, while allowing 101 H, 34 BB, and 8 HR. He's being moved up rapidly through the A's minor league system, starting at low-A Kane County after signing with Oakland, and was recently promoted to AA Midland. There's not much of a sample size to work with, but in 12.2 IP, Huston's allowed 11 H, 5 BB, and 0 HR with a 1.42 ERA and 15 K. Street throws a plus sinker in the high-80s/low-90s, and uses a plus slider as his out pitch; his deceptive delivery makes his pitches that much more difficult for hitters to pick up. It's conceivable that he could find his way to AAA Sacramento (or even the major league level) after September call-ups, while given every opportunity to win a spot in the 2005 bullpen.

Marcus Gwyn – Drafted by the A's in 2000 out of Rice University in the 7th round, Gwyn bounced around the low minors as a starter before being converted to a reliever prior to the 2003 season. Since then, Gwyn has jumped to AAA Sacramento from high-A Modesto while posting a 3.54 ERA in 132.1 IP, along with peripheral stats of 10.54 K/9, 0.41 HR/9, and an excellent 3.16 K/BB ratio. Marc still struggles a bit with his control, but his rapid promotion signals that Oakland is at least happy with his progress over the last 2 years. He's a bit old (26) to still be considered a prospect, but Gwyn is a pitcher to watch when the 2005 bullpen is shaking itself out.

One Man's Guess at how the 2005 Bullpen Will Look






Long Relief



Situational Lefty



Situational Righty

















NOTE: starred salaries are estimated.

Questions or comments? Please email Adam Miller at superflyam@excite.com

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