Eric O’Flaherty (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane has replaced soon-to-be departed free-agent closer Grant Balfour with three new relievers this winter: new closer Jim Johnson, setup man Luke Gregerson, and now lefty Eric O’Flaherty. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Beane inked O’Flaherty to a two-year, $7 million deal on Wednesday.
O’Flaherty is recovering from Tommy John surgery, so he won’t be immediately available. However, when he does return to action, likely in July, he’ll join a stellar relief corps which includes Johnson, Gregerson, Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook, Dan Otero, and Jesse Chavez.
In four seasons prior to getting injured last year, O’Flaherty posted a combined ERA of 1.95. He’s held lefties to .156/.212/.207 batting line over the past three seasons. Adding a solid lefty in O’Flaherty to a bullpen that finished sixth in ERA last season continues to bolster what was already a strength for Oakland.
Johnson (2.94 ERA last year), Gregerson (2.71 ERA) and O’Flaherty add depth and talent to a unit that was already quite solid. It’s clear that Beane’s intention this winter was to shorten the game by deepening his bullpen. Thus, while the rotation has made what appear to be lateral moves in losing Bartolo Colon and the oft-injured Brett Anderson while adding Scott Kazmir and a full season of Sonny Gray, the club’s bullpen should be in a position to offset any decline from the starting five.
The small-market A’s have spent big money on the bullpen this winter. In addition to spending $7 million over two years on O’Flaherty, the A’s will pay Johnson close to $11 million and Gregerson close to $5 million next season via arbitration. When factoring in arbitration raises, the A’s payroll is approaching $80 million for 2014, up from about $62 million in 2013.
With no movement on the club’s quest for a new stadium, the A’s are in a state of year-to-year limbo. They don’t have the resources to compete for the elite free agents, so Beane has focused the payroll increase on building what should be a dominant bullpen. His roster was already deep and devoid of many holes heading into the offseason, giving some credence to the strategy of spending relatively large on the pen.
The Texas Rangers have made the biggest splashes in the AL West this winter by acquiring Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. The Seattle Mariners weren’t far behind with the Robinson Cano signing. Yet on paper, it’s the low-budget A’s who appear to have the deepest roster.