Athletics

With Madson, A's rolling dice on another veteran pitcher

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With Madson, A's rolling dice on another veteran pitcher

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.

[Source: Ryan Madson, A's agree to three-year deal]

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.

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.