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.
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.”