After blowing up the bullpen and importing a new one, the A’s won’t be nearly as awful — or unwatchable — as they were in 2015 when the team piled up the most losses in the American League.
In an ambitious effort to put out the dumpster fire, executive vice president of baseball operations Billy Beane recruited free-agents Ryan Madson and John Axford and acquired Liam Hendriks and Marc Rzepczynski in trades.
Like incumbent closer Sean Doolittle, the new guys all throw gas. In 2015, righties Madson, Axford and Hendriks averaged 95 mph or better with their heaters and the left-handed Rzepczynski chucked a 93-mph sinker.
“I think you saw it last year with what KC did,” Rzepczynski said of the attempt to emulate the defending champion Kansas City Royals’ high-octane pen. “Seeing that core group of guys that come together, we’re looking forward to getting out there and strapping it on.”
The brass lured Axford to the Coliseum by giving him a two-year, $10 million payout.
“I had a few different choices. I haven’t heard anything bad — in all honesty — about the organization and the guys here. The club’s been good — obviously last year was difficult,” Axford said, referring to the 35 one-run losses — the most in the majors and in Oakland history.
With the remade relief crew in place, the question is whether Oakland has the rotation, bats and gloves to hand those relievers a lead with any regularity.
The rotation consists of Cy Young hopeful Sonny Gray and four question marks. With the once-promising Jesse Hahn banished to AAA, Rich Hill, 36, who made four starts in 2015, is the No 2.
As for the offense, “dangerous” wouldn’t be the word to describe it. Danny Valencia cleans up even though it was only August when the Blue Jays couldn’t find room for him on their roster — much less in the heart of their order.
A season after leading the world in errors, the spring results suggest nothing has changed. Oakland has committed the most miscues in the bigs, prompting manager Bob Melvin to call his defense “putrid.”
Beane has made a career of cobbling together rosters of no-names and transforming them into winners. But with the Rangers returning as the division winners, the Astros rising as a superpower and the Mariners and Angels both determined to contend, expecting these misfits to follow in that tradition is a monstrous ask.