In his suite Tuesday afternoon, Billy Beane talked about making the most impact possible with the fewest dollars, something that would sound familiar any given year. And though his club’s bullpen was bad last year, he insisted it was a means by which they could get better this offseason without spending a lot. When the bullpen came up a third time, he sounded almost wistful about the velocity some teams were able to trot out in the last innings.
By adding John Axford on a two-year deal for $10 million, as the Athletics did Wednesday (pending a physical), he underlined those comments.
“We’re looking for the best value we think we can get for the money we have,” he said about their offseason plans. “In this case, the bullpen has been a focus in terms of translating what we have in dollars into what we think is value. We also could use some bullpen help, so it fits into the narrative from last year.”
But he insisted it wasn’t about copying teams that have done well with good bullpens. “It’s not by design like that. ‘Hey we’re going to try and fashion a team based on this model,'” he said of improving the bullpen by adding Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks, and Axford.
That trio will cost the team around $12 million next year, and none is under contract for more than three years. When starting pitchers are getting six and seven years, and 35-year-old second basemen are getting four years and $56 million, this is what it looks like to shop in the bargain aisle these days.
And the trio comes in averaging 95 mph on their fastball as a group. That’s important, too, given the fact that the Athletics had the third-worst bullpen velocity in the game last year. They should be able to improve that standing to at least league average, especially since they’ve also shipped out Evan Scribner and his 91 mph fastball in the meantime.
Gas. Gas and strikeouts in the late innings. All on cheap deals. Whatever you want to say about the fungibility of relievers, at least Beane is putting actions to his words and improving his team where he can.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.
Funny thing: if you go sort the team pitching leaderboards, looking only at relievers, the Athletics were dead last in only one category: LOB%. I don’t know how you fix that, other than maybe hoping to get less unlucky. (Which may be the largest part of what Beane calls “fitting into the narrative from last year” — just hope the regression gods are kind.)