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Deals Done

It’s been a day of high drama for Bay Area baseball, brought to a head by an official statement in the past couple of hours addressing the big news.

Yes, the rumours were true: the Oakland A’s have indeed signed free agent pitcher Drew Rucinski.

The contract guarantees him $3M in 2023 and there is a club option of $5M for 2024. Everything has been signed; he’s even completed his medical examination. Bad luck New York: you won’t be able to sneak in and steal this one.

Who Is Drew?

If you are reading this and sheepishly admitting to yourself that you’ve never heard of Rucinski then do not worry. He’s been pitching in the Korean Baseball League for the past four seasons after making 41 appearances in MLB between 2014 and 2018.

Rucinski was primarily a reliever during his time in the Big Leagues, but was a reliable innings-eater in Korea and figures to be given a shot in the A’s starting rotation.

MLB Trade Rumors included him right at the end of their Top 50 Free Agents and their assessment of where he might end up was spot on:

“Since he’ll be looking for his first MLB payday, Rucinski probably won’t care whether he signs with a rebuilding club who might flip him at the trade deadline or a postseason hopeful. Whichever club is willing to dole out the largest number of years and dollars will win the day here, and Rucinski’s likely price point should be affordable enough that even low-payroll teams can make competitive bids. Teams like the Pirates, D-backs, Royals, Rangers, A’s and Tigers might even be preferable, as they’ll have an easier time making the promise of guaranteed innings to Rucinski”.

MLB Trade Rumors

May we have some decent pitchers?

The Rucinski signing follows on from the acquisition of relief pitcher Trevor May.

The right-hander developed into a very effective reliever in Minnesota and earned a two-year, $15.5M contract with the New York Mets ahead of the 2021 season. He was excellent in a set-up role in 2021; however injuries held him back in 2022 and limited him to only 25 innings.

May went into this off-season with the objective of finding a decent one-year deal that would put him in a prominent bullpen role – ideally as a closer – from which he could rebuild his value to head back onto the free agent market next winter.

In other words, he was exactly the sort of quality arm that the A’s were looking for.

We more than had the budget spare to sign him to a $7m deal and to give him assurances that the closer role was his to lose. The contract is structured so that he gets a $1m signing bonus and then a $6m salary, plus a $100k assignment bonus if he is traded. The liability of that bonus payment will fall on the acquiring team, which says quite a lot!

In reality the best-case scenario for everyone is that May returns to form as our closer in the first half of the season, the A’s get to trade him for a prospect (for example, a good young reliever who we’ll have under contract for 5-6 years), the other team picks up the $2.5M-$3M left on his contract (plus that $100k bonus) and he gets to pitch for a contender ahead of seeking a multi-year contract next winter.

As I’ve written previously, this is precisely the type of player a rebuilding team like the A’s should be signing. May’s track record suggests it could be a very astute addition, both in his potential mid-season trade value and that his presence as the closer will let other members of our bullpen slide down a spot to where they are probably better suited at the moment.

Taking Stock

Left-hander Zach Logue had to be Designated For Assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Rucinski and that’s testament to the fact that we do now have quite a few pitching options.

It is much more a plethora of pitchers than an embarrassment of riches, but there’s something to be said for having a whole bundle of arms and seeing if any work out.

If 2022 was Year Zero, 2023 should be a season in which we start to learn more about the group of players currently straddling the Triple-A and MLB divide. Principally, which ones look like they may be able to take the next step and be a part of the next contending A’s team.

Even if 2023 brings plenty of losses on the field again, as it surely will, it at least promises to be an intriguing season. And as we know from previous experience, those seasons can be fun irrespective of what the Win-Loss record says at the end of it.

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