Athletics

Forst sees Hendriks as potential bullpen 'fixture' for A's

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Forst sees Hendriks as potential bullpen 'fixture' for A's

In the effort to rebuild their bullpen, the A’s may have acquired an important foundation piece Friday.

They acquired reliever Liam Hendriks from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for right-hander Jesse Chavez, and A’s general manager David Forst said he envisions the 26-year-old Hendriks as a potential setup man to closer Sean Doolittle.

Hendriks is young, he’s under team control for four more years, and he’s coming off an excellent season in Toronto’s bullpen. That made him a target for an A’s team that carried the highest bullpen ERA in the American League last season (4.63).

“I think we see him as a guy who could potentially pitch in a setup role or at the back end of the bullpen,” Forst said. “He made a leap forward this year after being a starter most of his career. His velocity spiked up. We felt this is a guy that could become a fixture in our bullpen for a number of years.”

To get him, the A’s parted with Chavez, whose ability to start or relieve made him a valuable trade commodity. The A’s and Jays had discussed Chavez going back to July’s trade deadline, Forst said, and the addition of free agent starter Rich Hill made it easier for the A’s to part with Chavez. Hill’s one-year contract was announced Friday as part of a busy day of team transactions.

[STIGLICH: A's trade RHP Jesse Chavez to Blue Jays]

Chavez was at home in Pomona, putting together a patio sofa, when he got the call from Forst. Chavez admitted the news left him “confused” because of the timing.

“We don’t need a roster spot. We weren’t at the winter meetings yet.”

But he said he had a great conversation with Forst and thanked the A’s for giving him the opportunity to fill so many roles and build his versatility.

Doolittle said Chavez will be missed.

“He’s been a late-inning guy, he’s been a long man and he’s been a starter. He’s so good working with guys on mechanics. It’s gonna be tough to fill that role.”

Hendriks enjoyed great success in 2015, his first as a full-time reliever. He posted a 2.92 ERA and struck out 71 in 64 2/3 innings, an average of 9.9 per nine innings. His four-seam fastball touches the mid 90’s and he complements that with a hard sinker and slider. It stands to reason he could split the eighth-inning setup role with lefty Drew Pomeranz, provided Pomeranz isn’t needed in the rotation.

[STIGLICH: Perseverance pays off for new A's starter Rich Hill]

Right now, it appears the A’s could have four of seven bullpen spots filled with Doolittle, Hendriks, Pomeranz and Ryan Dull, who showed promise in a September call-up. Forst emphasized the A’s are still looking to add to the bullpen, whether through free agency or trade.

“We’ve explored all those (avenues), some free agents, some trade possibilities already,” he said. “Obviously to trade for a (top reliever), the cost is high. There are some big contracts being thrown out there. We’ll stay on top of both. … Payroll is not a (deterrent). We’ve got room to spend. We’ve just gotta find the right guys.”

Top-shelf free agents like Darren O’Day and Joakim Soria reportedly are looking for three- or four-year deals near $9 million per season. At the other end of the spectrum are relievers like Trevor Cahill or Alexi Ogando, lower-cost options whose effectiveness is tougher to predict.

Forst added that even after signing Hill, the A’s are still on the lookout for starting pitching too.

“There’s probably not a better example than 2015 of us needing as many starting pitchers as we can get.”

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

Ex-A's catcher Bruce Maxwell details mental toll of kneeling in HEADSTRONG

"It made me feel a little lost in the world."

Former A's catcher Bruce Maxwell made history on Sept. 23, 2017, by being the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police brutality. 

He detailed that day to NBC Sports Bay Area/California in NBC Sports' documentary, "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports."

"When I got to the field, I immediately walked into my manager's office -- had a sit down with him and our GM in private, told them what I was going to do, told them how I was going to go about it -- told them my plan, reasons, and shed a few tears because it's a heartfelt subject for me ... " 

Maxwell knew the backlash he would receive, he just wasn't prepared for the magnitude of it. He received death threats -- and still does to this day.

"The fact that somebody actually took the time to find out what school my sister coached basketball at in Texas, somebody took the time to find out where my mother lived," he explained. 

Maxwell then admitted he rarely left home when he headed back to Arizona following the event. 

"I was miserable," he said. 

He didn't want to do anything. Not exercise, not even talking to his parents.

"At that moment in time, I was standing for something way bigger than myself," Maxwell explained.

Just a few weeks later, the 28-year-old made headlines once again when he was arrested at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and disorderly conduct after he allegedly pointed a gun at a food delivery worker.

Maxwell told NBC Sports Bay Area/California he was in a certain mental state, and in addition to what was currently going on, he felt he needed to grab his gun in order to protect himself.

"I'm in my house, I'm defending myself, just in case this happens to be one of these crazy-ass people that are sending me threats," Maxwell said

He didn't feel like himself. Not even like a human being, he explained.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien shares mental health journey]

But now, he's freely talking about it and wants to leave his mark on the world with more than just what's going on between the foul lines.

You can watch all of the "HEADSTRONG: Mental Health and Sports" vignettes right here. The full documentary will play all month on NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California.

Check our channel listings page for times and dates.

MLB free agency: Five relief pitchers A's could target this offseason

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USATSI

MLB free agency: Five relief pitchers A's could target this offseason

It's no secret that the A's need to improve their bullpen. Oakland blew 30 saves in 2019, the most of any team in the majors.

With that in mind, here are five free agent relief pitchers the A's could target this offseason:

Will Harris

The A's already know Harris well from his time with the Astros. The 35-year-old has spent the last five years in Houston, posting a sparkling 2.36 ERA and 0.99 WHIP.

The 2019 season was the best of Harris' career. The right-hander went 4-1 with four saves, along with a 1.50 ERA and 0.93 WHIP. He notched 62 strikeouts in 60 innings, allowing just 14 walks.

Harris earned $4.225 million this past season and could be due a raise after his terrific performance. However, at the age of 35, he still figures to be an affordable option for Oakland.

Drew Pomeranz

The former A’s left-handed found tremendous success as a reliever this year after getting dealt to Milwaukee. In 25 games with the Brewers, Pomeranz went 0-1 with two saves, a 2.39 ERA, and a 0.91 WHIP. The 30-year-old struck out an eye-popping 45 batters in just 26 1/3 innings, while issuing eight walks.

Pomeranz pitched for the A's in 2014 and 2015, going 10-10 with three saves and a 3.08 ERA. He spent the first part of last season across the Bay in San Francisco, where he struggled mightily as a starter, going 2-9 with a 5.68 ERA. But once he arrived in Milwaukee, he became a completely different pitcher.

Pomeranz earned $1.5 million this year after making $8.5 million in 2018. His new contract will likely fall somewhere between those figures, making a second A's stint a possibility.

Daniel Hudson

A crucial part of the Nationals' World Series title, Hudson figures to be a hot commodity on the free agent market. The 32-year-old went 9-3 with eight saves and a 2.47 ERA between Washington and Toronto, striking out 71 batters in 73 innings.

Hudson also notched four saves in the postseason, going 1-0 with a 3.72 ERA. The right-hander has a career ERA of 3.83 in 10 seasons, with the first four coming as a starter.

Hudson earned just $1.5 million this year and will be in line for a significant raise. Still, the hard-throwing veteran could be worth it for an A's team in need of late-inning options.

[RELATED: Why A's, Hudson would be good fit]

Joe Smith

Smith was superb in limited appearances for the Astros this season. The veteran right-hander went 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 25 innings, striking out 22 and walking five.

Smith, 35, has a career ERA of 2.98 in 13 major league seasons. The sidearm specialist has been particularly effective against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a meager .215/.278/.308 slash line throughout his career.

Smith just completed a two-year, $15 million deal with Houston and could be available for a similar price this time around. The A's would be wise to at least make an inquiry.

Steve Cishek

Cishek is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons with the Cubs. The right-hander combined to go 8-9 with 11 saves and a 2.55 ERA, registering 135 strikeouts 134 1/3 innings.

[RELATED: Bullpen upgrade is Forst's main priority]

Cishek, 33, has a career 2.69 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 132 saves in 10 seasons. His sidearm delivery has also been especially successful against right-handed hitters, allowing them to slash just .199/.265/.288 in his career.

Cishek earned $6.5 million each of the last two seasons with the Cubs and figures to get a similar contract this offseason. He could certainly help boost the A's bullpen in 2020.