Wood embraces veteran role as 'old guy with a young staff'

February 15th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- was still learning the ins and outs of his new Spring Training facility during the first official workout for A’s pitchers and catchers on Wednesday, stopping new teammate Mitch Spence behind Hohokam Stadium to ask if he was heading in the right direction.

Once he found the correct backfield, Wood prepared for his first side session with new batterymate Tyler Soderstrom. Being the 22-year-old catcher’s elder by 11 years, Wood took charge of the meeting by going over his arsenal of pitches.

The opportunity for these kinds of interactions is what swayed Wood’s decision to sign with the A’s this offseason. Sure, Oakland offers the chance to once again start every fifth day after he pitched in a hybrid role with the Giants last season. But equally as alluring for the 33-year-old left-hander was the chance to utilize the knowledge gained from 11 big league seasons to help a group of young and inexperienced pitchers.

“What I’m most excited about is being the old guy with a young staff,” Wood said. “There are a lot of really good arms here that are establishing themselves. I enjoy sharing my own experiences and lessons learned with guys in hopes that I can help them be better throughout the year. … I’m excited to impart some wisdom, because I feel like I’ve been through a lot of different things over the course of my career.”

Wood's presence is certainly a welcome sight for manager Mark Kotsay. During the Winter Meetings back in December, the A’s skipper made it clear that one of his desires for the club this offseason was to bring in a veteran-type starter to help stabilize a rotation that tied a Major League record with 24 different starting pitchers used.

In addition to Wood, the A’s also traded for Ross Stripling earlier this month, providing a pair of established starting options who bring a combined experience of 19 Major League seasons. Both teammates with the Giants last season and the Dodgers from 2016-18 and '20, Wood and Stripling reunite with the A’s as former All-Stars who are viewed as upgrades for a club that seeks to take a substantial step forward in 2024 after losing 100-plus games in each of the past two seasons.

“I couldn’t be happier to have both of them,” Kotsay said. “These are guys with a reputation to be grinders who have won and expect to win. They’re going to help us from a performance standpoint and from a development standpoint in that locker room. … For those younger guys to be in camp and have an opportunity to learn from Stripling or Wood, it’s great.”

Wood is coming off a down year with San Francisco. After combining for 269 1/3 innings from 2021-22 as a mainstay of the Giants’ rotation, he was utilized in more of a swingman role in '23, posting a 4.33 ERA with 74 strikeouts and 42 walks in 97 2/3 innings as he made 12 starts and appeared in a total of 29 games.

While he dealt with separate back and hamstring injuries throughout the year, Wood refused to attribute any struggles to his health. Looking back, he breaks it down as a not-so-good first half in which he posted a 4.68 ERA in 13 games (nine starts) and a much better second half that saw him record a 3.97 ERA in 16 games (three starts) after fixing some mechanical issues in the middle of the season.

“A big part of having success in this league is figuring out how to navigate around that,” Wood said. “I figured out some stuff mechanically and my stuff was a lot better in the second half than it was in the first.”

With the A’s, Wood aims to prove he can be a quality starter in this league, while also utilizing his leadership qualities to raise the level of expectations for a rebuilding team that saw hope at the end of last season with the arrival of top prospects such as Soderstrom and Zack Gelof.

“We’ve got some promising arms and position players, and I think it’s very beneficial when you have veterans come in that have been around the block,” Wood said. “I think back to when I was with the Giants my first year and Buster Posey’s presence. When he’s in the room, you’re not [messing] around. You’re doing what you need to do. Not that I’m Buster Posey, but I think having good veterans who know what it takes to last in this league raises the bar for everybody. That’s what I hope to bring.”