OAKLAND — The A’s had great success taking a chance on pitchers coming off bad years last season, and it appears they’re looking to recreate that formula for 2019.
While several A’s players gathered at Jack London Square on Friday for a media availability to discuss the upcoming season, the primary subject of conversaton was a player not in attendance — Marco Estrada, who earlier in the day was signed by the A’s to a one-year deal worth $4 million.
“We’ve known for a while we’ve needed to add at least one more starter,” A’s GM David Forst said, noting the club had remained in contact with Estrada’s representatives since last month’s MLB Winter Meetings. “Last year pitched through some back and some hip issues and lost a little bit of velocity, but the command is outstanding as ever and his changeup has always been one of the best in the league. He’s a guy we fully expect to bounce back and be near the top of our rotation for 2019.
Much like the Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson signings last year, Estrada comes to the A’s fresh off one of the worst seasons of his 11-year career.
The 35-year-old right-hander posted a 5.64 ERA over 28 starts with the Blue Jays last season, but he’s just two years removed from an All-Star appearance in 2016, also finishing tenth in AL Cy Young voting the year before.
With a combined 3.88 ERA the three season prior to 2018, the A’s are looking for a similar bounce-back performance they’ve had in recent years with veteran pitchers.
But whether or not Estrada ever regains the form that made him one of the game’s best just a couple of years ago, his presence in the clubhouse alone is something young pitchers such as Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton are already excited about.
Cotton, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and expected to throw off a mound Feb. 4, is already counting down the days for spring training in order to get the chance to pick Estrada’s brain. He views the veteran as a similar pitcher to himself, both relying heavily on the fastball and changeup as the top pitches of their arsenal.
“That’s his craft and my craft,” Cotton said. “I can bounce ideas off of him, how to go about at-bats and how to pitch off of other pitches. I’m excited.”
Manaea, recovering from shoulder surgery, has been a fan of Estrada in years past. Going from a hitter-friendly ballpark in Toronto to a more pitcher-friendly Coliseum, Manaea expects Estrada’s numbers to improve greatly this upcoming season.
“I think his changeup is gonna play big at the Coliseum,” Manaea said. “I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
Given the current state of the A’s rotation, with Mike Fiers the only true lock of the group, Estrada figures to slot in somewhere in the middle. With the A’s planning to utilize the opener more often this upcoming season, Estrada could be one of a few pitchers the A’s decide to bring in after the first inning.
“He’s not afraid to give you some innings and whenever you have a guy coming off a down year with some injuries, he’s looking to bounce back. I talked to him today and know he’s excited about the team having watched from afar. There are certain guys you have a little more faith in bouncing back, he’s one of those guys.”
Parker Bridwell, who the A’s claimed off waivers earlier in the week, was outrighted to Triple-A in order to make room for Estrada on the 40-man roster. Bridwell now becomes a non-roster invitee for spring training.