MESA, Ariz. — Santiago Casilla walked through the A’s clubhouse Sunday morning shaking hands one-by-one and saying hello to his new teammates.
Time will tell whether he inserts himself into the A’s closer conversation.
Nearly three weeks after Oakland’s pitchers and catchers reported to camp, Casilla arrived from the Dominican Republic, his visa problems finally in the rear-view mirror.
He didn’t close the door on pitching in the World Baseball Classic, though he wouldn’t potentially join the Dominican squad until the second round of the tournament. And even then, several factors will come into play:
What kind of pitching shape is his arm in? How badly would his national team need him? And what do the A’s have to say about it?
“I’m going to skip the first round and leave the door open,” Casilla said through interpreter Juan Dorado. “Obviously if the team makes it to the second round and the finals, I’ll see how I feel.”
A’s manager Bob Melvin also left the door open.
“That’ll come into play with how we proceed with him,” Melvin said regarding the WBC. “But if that’s something he still potentially wants to do, we’re supportive of it.”
The storyline closer to home is how quickly Casilla gets himself into game shape and what role he eventually assumes in his second stint as an Athletic.
He left the A’s after the 2009 season, a work-in-progress still trying to harness his command on the mound. He returns as a 36-year-old veteran with three World Series rings from his time with the Giants. During those seven seasons, Casilla registered 25-plus saves three times, but he also endured a stormy ending to his tenure there, expressing hurt feelings when he was passed over for relief duty in last fall’s Game 4 loss to the Cubs that ended the National League Division Series.
He says he doesn’t draw motivation in trying to prove the Giants wrong for not trying to re-sign him.
“I know what kind of pitcher I am and I know what I need to do,” Casilla said. “Obviously they didn’t feel the need to sign me anymore, and I’m just happy to be here with the A’s. I feel like they have a bigger need for me here.”
There’s a fit for him somewhere in Oakland’s bullpen. The question is where.
Melvin says he hasn’t decided on a closer and hasn’t discussed specific roles with his relievers. For now, he just wants to ease Casilla into the mix. The right-hander threw a short bullpen session Sunday morning, and Melvin said Casilla would probably throw another one before any decisions are made to get him in a game.
Ryan Madson notched 30 saves last season, but he also tied for the AL’s second-most blown saves with seven. Casilla saved 31 games last year but tied for the major league lead with nine blown opportunities. John Axford and Sean Doolittle also are ninth-inning options for Melvin, who has stated he’s likely to use multiple guys in save situations depending on matchups and who needs rest.
“Ryan Madson certainly didn’t do anything that would suggest he’s not the closer, but we have a different complement of guys now, especially with Santiago,” Melvin said. “Right now, all these guys are just about getting ready for the season, and they’ve all stated to me they’re open to just about anything. They just want to win.”
While throwing in the Dominican Republic to keep his arm in shape, Casilla also took time to talk to the A’s young prospects based at their academy in that country. His advice extended beyond baseball, especially in light of the recent fatal car accidents in the Dominican that killed Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura and former major league infielder Andy Marte.
“I know what it’s like to have money and be rich and famous,” Casilla said. “But I wanted to talk to them about that time in their lives, talking to them about driving and being more responsible when they’re behind the wheel and also potentially under the influence. I just wanted to reiterate that you’re not invincible.”
The A’s made their first cuts of spring training, reassigning right-handed pitchers Michael Brady, Trey Cochran-Gill, Heath Fillmyer, Tucker Healy, Aaron Kurcz and Josh Smith to minor league camp. That leaves the A’s with 64 players in camp.