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.

A's top prospect ranking: Why Nick Allen comes in at No. 10 overall

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USATSI

A's top prospect ranking: Why Nick Allen comes in at No. 10 overall

Editor's note: Over the next two weeks, we will examine the top 10 prospects in the A's organization. For each player, we will provide a scouting report and a realistic timetable for reaching the major leagues, as well as what he needs to do to stay there.

No. 10 - Nick Allen, SS/2B

The A's selected Allen out of high school in the third round of the 2017 MLB Draft and he is beginning to develop into the shortstop they hoped he would be. At just 5-foot-9, the 21-year-old is far from imposing physically, but he is a defensive wizard.

Allen has tremendous range and a cannon for an arm, with MLB Pipeline assigning him a 65 fielding rating on the 20-80 scale and an arm grade of 60. There has never been any question about his defensive ability, which is already MLB quality. Now he's beginning to show improvement at the plate as well.

Allen struggled in 2018 at Class-A Beloit, slashing just .239/.301/.302 in 121 games. But this past season at High-A Stockton, that slash line shot up to .292/.363/.434, with improved power numbers across the board.

Allen also has above-average speed, with a 60 rating from MLB Pipeline. He stole 37 bases in 193 games over the past two seasons.

Allen can play shortstop and second base, both potential positions of need for the A's in the near future. Marcus Semien is set to become a free agent after the 2020 season and Jurickson Profar is far from a sure thing to return. Youngsters Jorge Mateo, Franklin Barreto, and Sheldon Neuse could also be options at the middle infield positions, but Allen has a great chance to earn a spot down the road.

Realistically, Allen doesn't figure to join the A's until at least 2021, with 2022 seeming more realistic. He just turned 21 earlier this month and has yet to play a single game above High-A.

Allen will likely start the 2020 season at Double-A Midland, with an opportunity to move up to Triple-A Las Vegas, based on his performance. If he continues to progress offensively, he could certainly earn a major league call-up at some point in 2021.

[RELATED: Why A's should move on from Grossman]

Allen has already added some strength, which has been reflected in his increased productivity at the plate. He will need to continue his work in the weight room, without losing his speed, which should be his biggest weapon offensively.

While Allen will never be a power-hitter, he can use his speed to wreak havoc on the basepaths. If he maintains his magical defensive prowess, he has an opportunity to develop into a solid major leaguer for Oakland.

A's closer Liam Hendriks a finalist for AL Reliever of the Year award

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USATSI

A's closer Liam Hendriks a finalist for AL Reliever of the Year award

A's closer Liam Hendriks is one of three finalists for the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award.

Hendriks is joined by Astros closer Roberto Osuna and Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. The NL finalists are Josh Hader, Will Smith, and Kirby Yates.

Hendriks, 30, enjoyed a breakout season in 2019, recording a 1.80 ERA and 0.96 WHIP. The right-hander notched 124 strikeouts in 85 innings, an A's franchise record for relievers, compared to just 21 walks.

Hendriks took over closing duties from Blake Treinen in the middle of the season and finished with 25 saves, along with eight holds. His 124 punchouts led AL relief pitchers and his 1.80 ERA ranked second among AL relievers with at least 40 innings.

Osuna posted a 2.63 ERA and 0.88 WHIP, with 73 strikeouts in 65 innings. Chapman finished with a 2.21 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, striking out 85 in 57 innings.

[RELATED: Hendriks' energy a big part of A's success]

The voting will be conducted by a panel of eight all-time great relief pitchers: Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, John Franco, and Billy Wagner. Both the AL and NL awards will be presented on October 26, before Game 4 of the World Series.