The Athletics added their first wave of reinforcements Saturday. Included among them, expected middle infielder of the future Franklin Barreto, journeyman catcher Beau Taylor and recently acquired reliever Cory Gearrin.
With active rosters expanded from 25 to 40 for the month of September, Oakland made its first set of roster moves adding eight players to the an A’s club in the heat of a playoff race. The additions include five pitchers, one catcher, one infielder and one outfielder.
Though it wouldn’t seem so, given the 14-man pitching staff manager Bob Melvin was commanding prior to the moves, the five hurlers added may be the most welcomed addition — the Oakland bullpen is currently seventh in baseball with 496 innings pitched, and its usage rate has only increased of late. But Melvin is ecstatic to have his bench lengthened from two to five given his propensity for using the entirety of his arsenal:
“It allows us to match up. … When you have a three-man bench it’s a little more difficult to do it, you’re pitching one spot in the course of a game to get a leverage matchup.”
The matchups Melvin will be on the lookout for include getting a left-handed bat, like Taylor or reactivate outfielder Matt Joyce, into the box against an opposing right-hander, something he has been inclined to do all season — even with a short bench.
Joyce is returning from a stint on the disabled list that lasted almost exactly two months. When the veteran found his way on to the DL for the second time this season, on July 4, he was batting .203 with a .311 on-base percentage and seven homers. But his entire season has been a battle, with a back injury and a high strikeout total playing the part of the adversary.
When healthy, Joyce offers power — he homered a career-high 25 times last season. Barreto brings the same from the right side of the plate.
In five previous trips to Oakland this year, the 22-year-old homered four times (in 23 games) and knocked in 13 runs, including a three-hit, three-RBI performance in his last big league start.
Melvin echoed a sentiment he has shared several times this season Saturday, saying that Barreto, among the organization’s top prospects for several seasons, is a talent that just needs more at-bats in the big leagues. He is a career .288 hitter in six minor league seasons.
Taylor, 28, is in a big league uniform for the first time in his life, after eight seasons and 638 games as a minor leaguer. A career .259 hitter in the minors, Taylor slashed .248/.360/.348 in 90 games with Triple-A Nashville this season. And while his power is limited — he has never hit more than eight homers in a season — he is known for his defensive prowess, in particular his work with pitchers, a skill Melvin, a 10-year big league catcher, lauded:
“A lot of times, catchers, some of the stuff a catcher does with pitchers, goes a little bit unnoticed as far as stats go. We hear nothing but good things from the pitchers and the staff (regarding Taylor) in Triple-A from what he’s done.”
Taylor though, was not a part of the 40-man roster prior to Saturday, meaning further movement was needed before he could get the call. In order to make space for Taylor, the A’s designated catcher Bruce Maxwell for assignment.
Maxwell appeared in 127 games with the A’s over the past three seasons slashing .240/.314/.347, with much of the success coming in 2016 when he batted .283 with one homer and 14 RBIs in 33 games. Since, he has batted .226, including a .182 average this season.
Melvin acknowledged that Maxwell is still young (27) and still has a lot of talent, adding that he was just on the wrong end of a tough decision that involved rewarding Taylor for being a productive pro for such a long time. The skipper said that the team may be interested in retaining Maxwell should he clear waivers:
“We’ll see if he’s picked up or whatever. Beau’s done a really nice job and come a long way in our organization; we felt like it was the right thing to do to promote him, he’s earned it.”
Taylor, now the A’s third catcher, will be part of an altered attack.
Melvin announced Saturday that the A’s will follow the lead of the Rays, asking a reliever to pitch the first inning or two before bringing in the starter as the second pitcher. Liam Hendriks, one of the eight additions, will get the first nod in the position, which has come to be known as the “opener.”
The skipper attributed the decision to Oakland’s rash of rotation injuries:
“With starters going down, we’re going to have to use our bullpen anyway. … The strength of our team, or at least of our pitching staff, is our bullpen and at this point we’re not afraid to use it a little differently.”
“We’ve had quite a few (starters) go down, I think the (Sean) Manaea one probably got us looking at this a little further. What do we have, 14 guys in the bullpen so it probably won’t be the last time that we do (this).”
Manaea, the staff ace, was put on the DL last week with rotator cuff tendinitis the team fears will forced him to miss the rest of the season.
Hendriks carries a decision-less record and 7.36 ERA in 13 games this season into his first start since 2014, and has not appeared in a big league game since June 24. While with the Sounds, Hendriks rediscovered his groove going 4-1 with a 2.84 ERA.
Chris Hatcher and Danny Coulombe join Hendriks as major league vets bolstering the A’s bullpen, though neither has enjoyed much success this season. Coulombe appears to be the more noteworthy addition of the three as he gives Melvin a second lefty reliever, joining Ryan Buchter.
As the A’s continue to surge toward their first playoff berth in four years, being able to matchup left-on-left in middle-inning situations will help Oakland stay on the positive. Dean Kiekhefer, another lefty and former St. Louis Cardinal, and Gearrin round out the A’s roster additions. The latter someone Melvin said could see in several roles:
“You look at his numbers this year, he’s been terrific, we’ve seen that firsthand.”
Along with Maxwell’s DFA, the A’s announced that pitcher Josh Lucas and outfielder Boog Powell have both been outrighted to Triple-A Nashville, and Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman (Tommy John surgery) has been move from the 10-day to the 60-day DL.
Among additions to come, Nick Martini, Frankie Montas, Ryan Dull and Chris Bassitt, each optioned recently, must wait until Sept. 4 (the end of the Triple-A regular season) before they can return. And Jorge Mateo, Oakland’s No. 7 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline, is the only remaining A’s minor leaguer currently on the 40-man roster having not been with the big league club this season.