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The A’s added yet another reliever Wednesday, rolling the dice on an injured lefty that they feel will wind up being a steal.
Veteran Eric O’Flaherty, who spent the past five seasons with Atlanta, was signed to a two-year $7 million deal. It will be months before A’s fans get their first look at him.
O’Flaherty, who turns 29 next month, underwent “Tommy John” elbow surgery in May and missed the rest of the 2013 season. Reports suggest he could return to the mound by July, though the A’s don’t have their own timetable yet. If he makes a full recovery, he’ll be another strong complement to a relief corps that could shape up as one of the major leagues’ best in 2014.
“It was an opportunity, with a guy coming off an injury, to potentially get a good deal,” A’s assistant general manager David Forst said. “When he’s healthy, he’s been one of the best left-handed relievers in the game the last three years.”
The A’s have gone all-out to strengthen a bullpen that was already in pretty good shape when the offseason started. They acquired closer Jim Johnson from Baltimore to offset the loss of Grant Balfour. They also added a top-notch right-handed setup man in Luke Gregerson and another lefty in Fernando Abad, adding to a returning bullpen core that includes right-handers Ryan Cook and Dan Otero and lefty Sean Doolittle.
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But Oakland was looking to bolster its middle relief from the left side, particularly after the December trade of Jerry Blevins to Washington.
O’Flaherty, who features a sinker and slider, posted a sterling 1.68 ERA over the last four seasons as a setup man for Atlanta. He’s held lefties to a .200 average over his career (righties have hit .270), and A’s manager Bob Melvin said O’Flaherty will be an effective option to send out against some of the dangerous left-handed bats in the American League West.
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“We’ve seen how important the bullpen has been to us,” Melvin said. “To bring in a situational left-hander like this guy is … there’s been an influx of more left-handers in our division – (Robinson) Cano, (Prince) Fielder. This guy has got a long history of getting those guys out.”
O’Flaherty doesn’t have an extended history against either of those boppers. Fielder, now with Texas, is 1 for 7 with a home run and a strikeout against him. Cano, Seattle’s marquee addition, is 1 for 4.
The question is how soon Melvin will be summoning O’Flaherty. The lefty is eight months removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, and the general timetable is 12-18 months recovery time for pitchers.
Forst said O’Flaherty received a thorough examination before the signing and that the A’s are pleased with his progress.
A National League scout who has watched O’Flaherty extensively described him as an aggressive pitcher who pitches to contact and is effective throwing on back-to-back days.
“I always thought of him as a strong, durable guy,” the scout said. “I’d think he would bounce back from (surgery) fairly well.”
Until O’Flaherty is healthy, Forst identified Abad and recently acquired Drew Pomeranz as potential lefty relief options in front of Doolittle. But Pomeranz is also a starting candidate.
The A’s have had a busy offseason, though most of their moves have been to upgrade their pitching staff and add versatile role players such as outfielder Craig Gentry and infielder Nick Punto. There’s no indication of an effort to add an impact hitter, though Forst said the team is “open” to more moves. Oakland’s aggressiveness has been in line with the rest of the A.L. West.
The Rangers, who appear the biggest challengers to the two-time defending division champion A’s, added Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo. Seattle broke the bank to sign Cano.
“I don’t think we can or should try to keep up with other teams in our division,” Forst said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of money being spent. There’s a long way to go between now and September, but we’re very happy with the club we’ve put together.”
Outfielder Corey Brown was designated for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for O'Flaherty.