The A’s are placing a lot of faith, and committing a significant chunk of money, to two pitchers who have blazed their own unique comeback trails.
On Sunday, Oakland agreed to terms with free agent reliever Ryan Madson on a three-year, $22 million contract that is pending a physical. He joins lefty starter Rich Hill, signed Nov. 20 to a one-year $6 million deal, as key veteran additions to the A’s pitching staff.
Both are 35 years old, and both have overcome their share of adversity. Hill, a longtime reliever who’s been with nine different teams, swallowed his pride and signed on with an independent league team last summer to open up an opportunity to start again. He followed with a brief but excellent September stint in the Boston Red Sox’s rotation.
Madson’s story is even more dramatic. The one-time Phillies closer became so disillusioned with difficulties following reconstructive elbow surgery in 2012 that he eventually retired, only to make a comeback last season as a standout bullpen contributor for the World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
As detailed in a Kansas City Star story from October, Madson decided to give baseball another shot after being reinvigorated when he was asked to tutor a high school pitcher by Royals executive Jim Fregosi, Jr., who had signed Madson with the Phillies. After three full seasons spent away from the majors, Madson carved out a spot in the Royals’ bullpen in 2015 and was a huge boost to a relief corps that lost closer Greg Holland to Tommy John surgery late in the season.
Madson gradually worked his fastball back up to 96 miles per hour last season and paired it with an excellent changeup. He posted a 2.13 ERA in 68 appearances with the Royals, averaging 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings and posting an excellent 0.963 WHIP ratio (walks and hits per innings pitched).
The A’s spent aggressively to land him, as Madson was expected to command a three-year deal more in the $15 million range. Given the price tag, it figures the A’s see him as their primary eighth-inning setup man to closer Sean Doolittle, helping compensate for the trade of lefty Drew Pomeranz. The A’s previously added another power arm in Liam Hendriks, who also figures to work in the late innings, as well as lefty specialist Marc Rzepczynski.
In Hill and Madson, the A’s have shown a willingness to roll the dice on two pitchers approaching the twilight of their careers, giving them each an unlikely opportunity given the way their careers have unfolded to this point.
How both veterans fare in Green and Gold will have a big influence on the A’s fortunes in 2016.