The Oakland A’s might’ve made the postseason for a third straight season in 2020, but the sting of another early elimination worsened as they watched a team with an even lower payroll glide into the World Series.
What made the Tampa Bay Rays infallible throughout the 60-game season and whirlwind postseason: an incredibly deep bullpen that kept opposing hitters on their toes by throwing a different look at hitters any chance they could.
Now in the offseason’s final hours, the A’s have taken that thread and pulled it hard. They’ve traded with the Los Angeles Dodgers for left-handed sidearmer Adam Kolarek, signed right-handed side armer Sergio Romo, and signed for one year, $11 million (with deferrals) one of the most coveted closers in baseball, Trevor Rosenthal.
A cobbled together team on a shoestring budget now has one of the strongest, deepest bullpens in the American League. Not only do the A’s have depth, but noticeable variety. And that’s all by design.
“We look at all that stuff, arm angles, velocities, ground versus fly ball,” general manager David Forst said over Zoom on Wednesday. “The teams that have gone far in the playoffs have proven that if you can give opponent a number of different looks out of the bullpen, it has a chance to be valuable. The Rays have done that by design for a time now. The Dodgers did it last year. If you’re looking to model after the two teams that made it all the way last year, it’s something we definitely consider.”
Yes, the A’s bullpen in 2020 was above average — the staff had a 3.77 ERA and 4.02 FIP in 2020. But this one has more variety, and that’s the spice of life when it comes to attacking strong opposing lineups.
Romo and Kolarek, as side-armers from either side of the mound, complete a broader spectrum of arm angles. Kolarek throws a sinker that generates a ton of ground balls and averages 89 mph. Romo throws primarily a slider with a higher strikeout rate (26.4%).
Rosenthal signed a reported one-year deal — the largest for a reliever in A’s history — to add some potentials saves to his resume. He had other offers on the table, per reports, but he joined Oakland because they offered the highest annual salary. (You read that right).
Restrictive budget and all, that the A’s pushed their chips into a high-profile closer that throws 100mph — over other possible re-signings and additions — should tell you everything about how much they value bullpen depth and talent.
Rosenthal, 30, is a talent. In 2020, he posted one of the top strikeout rates (41.5%) and expected ERA (2.00) to go along with a freakish fastball, a slider and changeup. The A’s were going to have to cobble together ninth-inning options in place of Liam Hendriks. Now they have a closer that rivals him and adds plenty of velocity and strikeout stuff to the fold, to put it mildly.
J.B. Wendeklen, Burch Smith and Jake Diekman add strikeout stuff from the right and left sides, respectively, too. Yusmeiro Petit and Nik Turley add finesse and touch from the right and left side, respectively.
“In theory, I’m sure that was by design. Youth. Power. Touch. Arm angles,” manager Bob Melvin said prior to workouts on Thursday. “It definitely poses some potential problems for other teams. It’s how you match it up, there’s a lot of analytics that follows that and so on. Potentially we have a lot of guys that can do a lot of things differently. And that can be a bonus for us.”
Add Lou Trivino, Rule 5 draftee Dany Jimenez, A.J. Puk if he’s a slow ramp-up as a starter, Jordan Weems, Cole Irvin and prospects such as Daulton Jefferies, James Kaprielian into the fold and the depth suddenly turns into an overflow.
The A’s may carry 14 pitchers on the 26-man roster to accommodate all the options they’ve created for themselves. That’s a problem they’re more than happy to have.