Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bullpen Bargains: Otero, Abad, Rodriguez set to star

As Oakland's frenzied offseason has boded Jim Johnson, poised to usurp Balfour's 9th inning duties, Eric O'Flaherty and his traditionally sensational performances despite his corresponding injury that'll sideline him until the medial portion of 2014, and Luke Gregerson, one of the NL's most fearsome set-up men for the previous few seasons, the A's have established perhaps the most intimidating relieving cast throughout major league baseball as the newly acquired trio shall contrast with stalwart forces such as Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook that have steadied the Athletics over their previous two AL West championship crusades. With the inheritance of Johnson, Gregerson, and O'Flaherty's contacts, Oakland is guaranteed to distribute in excess of $17M (Johnson $10M, Gregerson $5.025M, O'Flaherty 2 years/$7M) to those individuals alone and have devoted approximately 23% of their 2014 payroll to their bullpen assets, deadlocked with Tampa Bay for the highest percentage compromised to relieving specialists in baseball. Presumed additionally to be bestowed with bullpen berths are Dan Otero, Jesse Chavez, Fernando Rodriguez (TJS) and Fernando Abad, a far less notable contingent that'll service for the Athletics within their low leverage situations and garner only but minimal fame outside of the organization. However, this cast is undeniably pivotal for Oakland as the foundation of the Athletics pitching staff, utilized should the rotation struggle or succumb to injury and be trotted out in situational appearances to nullify an especially pesky bat, a role previously encompassed by Jerry Blevins and Evan Scribner. While Scribner still remains within the organization, he has had his options depleted and is highly unlikely to be granted with a opening day post unless injury should occur, so it'll most likely be a waiver adventure for the pitcher who clinched Oakland's 2012 AL West title in late March, as Jesse Chavez has promptly overtaken him upon the long relief righty depth chart.

Chavez was originally dealt to the A's for cash considerations from Toronto and became an organizational scapegoat after floundering through a horrid 2012 debut after four outings, two of which he throttled in by Baltimore and Detroit, that found him on the fringe of the A's organization and left many questioned why the Athletics went the entire offseason prior to 2013 without releasing him. The former asset that gave Tampa Bay Rafael Soriano, Chavez long has meandered throughout major league franchises between six organizations and serviced primarily as a long relief spot starter in desperation before latching onto Oakland. He figured to reprise his position after commencing within Sacramento's rotation, but astonishingly patched together one of his most outstanding stints in nearly a half decade for the Rivercats between five outings (30 IP) which was enough to grant him admittance into a permanent A's bullpen role, much to the chagrin of the fanbase. After a career of disparaging ineptitude, having amassed a lifetime -1.4 fWAR through 177 1/3 MLB frames with a FIP north of 4.90, Chavez stampeded to his most exquisite extended major league campaign by far between 35 appearances and 57 1/3 IP. The righty burst through for a cumulative 3.01 FIP, 4.8% HR/FB (12.4% career), 22.2% K%, 8.1% BB%, and 0.7 fWAR to become one of the most dominant long relief specialists during the 2013 campaign in the American League. The transition can be pinpointed to a repertoire shift, practically disbanding his slider entirely and incorporating a newly mastered cutter (41.6% of pitches thrown during 2013 were cutters compared to 34.1% fastballs, the lowest mark throughout his MLB tenure). Additionally coinciding with a bump in curveball utilization, Chavez has since been reborn as a revitalized reserve rotation member, now firmly entrenched in Oakland's bullpen while serving as a starting replacement should injury arise. Just recently avoiding arbitration for $750,000, Chavez now is poised to duplicate his production as a recalibrated 30 year old journeyman that has since seen his career salvaged by the Athletics, featuring as a crucial reliever for the A's throughout this 2014. While not in immediate danger, Chavez is out of options for the entirety of this approaching season. 

Another offseason acquisition that shall compete within Phoenix Municipal while out of options is Fernando Abad, the Dominican LHP that essentially replaces Pedro Figueroa's position for the Athletics as the resident aging international LOOGY that shall have to make the roster should he wish to retain his position upon the 40 man roster. Abad, swapped for John Wooten in another transaction between Beane and Rizzo, recently embarked on a stupendous romp through the Dominican and Venezuelan winter leagues with the Toros del Este and the Navegantes de Magallanes while not permitting any walks through 17 appearances and 18 innings compared to 15 K, 25 H, and 7 allowed versus AA/AAA caliber competition. It was encouraging production in his initial organized baseball performance while housed within the A's organization, now seemingly assured an opening bullpen post barring a disastrous spring. Previously with Washington, Abad amassed his most sterling statistical output of his MLB career through 37 2/3 IP, with a 6.0% BB%, 6.3% HR/FB, 3.26 FIP and 0.3 fWAR as he fared considerably more favorably after shifting from the infuriating Crawford Boxes and Houston after surrendering 7 of his 14 HRs with the Astros (2010-2012, 84 2/3 IP) to RHB in Minute Maid. The former top Houston prospect just prior to his debut while still housed in Corpus Christi, Abad thrived when relieved of the dreadful confines of south Texas as the control oriented asset fared for better within his constrained DC stint. Now, after having disbanded with a 37th round corner outfielder in John Wooten, Abad arrives as one of the most phenomenal additions of the offseason and ought to benefit even more so from the pitcher friendly atmospheric conditions within the Coliseum. As opposed to the aforementioned Figueroa, Abad's forte is his exceptional precision while incorporating his 92-95 fastball and accompanying changeup/curveball secondary slate, which features in stark contrast to the budding Henry Rodriguez that is Figgy. Another low budget significant upgrade orchestrated by the Athletics, Abad should make it a difficulty for the organization to squeeze O'Flaherty onto their roster once he's cleared to return. 

Abad's 2012 Houston bullpen companion, Fernando Rodriguez was shipped to Oakland as an accessory within the Lowrie swap, featuring as an inconsistent long relief asset that had dabbled in Anaheim prior to his free agency with the Astros in 2010. After succumbing to an injury to his Ulnar collateral ligament and having to undergo TJS before he could debut with Oakland in 2013, Rodriguez has since recuperated and is one of the more highly anticipated bullpen additions for the Athletics after what has been reported as a remarkable spring thus far for the 29 year old El Paso native. With rave reviews from Bob Melvin and opposition such as Luke Montz, who stated he "Never wanted to face him again" after a simulated game/BP session (Per Susan Slusser), Rodriguez has raised eyebrows throughout the Phoenix facility and figures to be bestowed with an instantaneous bullpen position following his extended stint and supposed rehabilitation assignment with Sacramento. The curveball specialist (27.6% CB% for his career) has a reputation to be erratic, after his 70 1/3 IP stay with Houston in 2012 in which he amassed a 11.0% BB% and walked 24 batters in 28 1/3 IP on the road away from Houston (As opposed to a mere 10 through 41 IP in Texas). He does support that with a plus strikeout percentage (24.9% K% career mark), but has often been bitten by a litany of dingers after boasting a 11.5% HR/9 throughout his career cumulative 123 1/3 IP, including once again cursing the Crawford Boxes after surrendering 9 of his career 16 HRs while housed within Houston's organization to RHB at home (47 1/3 IP, 7 HR in 75 1/3 IP in all other scenarios). Regardless of his mediocre 4.35 FIP and -0.1 FIP throughout his brief tenure when pitted against MLB competition, Rodriguez evidently has the attention of the Athletics and shall receive an initial opportunity with the ballclub to prove himself. After avoiding arbitration this winter for a sum just slightly greater than $600,000, he'll attempt to definitively clinch the Lowrie swap for the Athletics with a Chavez-esque breakthrough campaign. 

The often forgotten workhorse hidden beneath the notable residents of Oakland's bullpen, Dan Otero has constructed an outstanding case as one of the premier precision relievers in the majors, after having been scooped up by the Athletics after two consecutive DFAs just before 2013 began. He was forcibly made to navigate through waivers once more by the A's, but would remain within the organization and was consequently outrighted to Sacramento to commence the previous season, stomping past the AAA competition through 23 appearances, 15 of which he wound up credited with a save to complement his 22:1 K/BB (ONE walk) in 27 1/3 IP to conclude a PCL performance that jarred the Oakland front office and saw Otero don the A's insignia on June 14th to service as the Athletics' middle relief asset. The fastball/slider/changeup arsenal wielded by Otero stymied opponents upon his first legitimate prolonged major league stint with the A's,  completing his attempt with 39 IP through 33 appearances with a 27:6 K/BB (17.0% K%/3.7% BB%) with zero dingers that calculated to a 2.12 FIP and a 0.8 fWAR. The remarkable control bullpen piece boasts a lengthy résumé of eyepopping statistical results, with a mere 12 HRs permitted through 354 1/3 professional frames, 48 walks distributed, and a 2.20 GB/FB ratio, with the only lackluster attribute noted in regards to his performance being mediocre strikeout percentages with occasionally lofty BABIP rates. That minute critique shall likely not thwart Otero's impending 2014, which will all but assuredly be splendid once more, quite possibly featuring as the most underrated reliever in all of baseball. 

Oakland being granted with the designation as the most imposing bullpen amongst all of baseball isn't exactly an exaggeration. But the majority of those proclaiming that have yet to even investigate the secondary tier of relieving assets possessed by the Athletics, and with the performances they're likely to produce, it could possibly even result in historic ramifications let alone restricted just to 2014 as one of the greatest relieving corps ever... But, we'll just have to wait until November to possibly ignite that discussion 

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