A's reel in Axford for revamped bullpen
Oakland also lands 2 pitching prospects for Lawrie at Winter Meetings
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The A's endured a busy Wednesday at the Winter Meetings, swinging a deal with the White Sox that netted them two pitching prospects for infielder Brett Lawrie, while further bolstering their bullpen with the addition of veteran reliever John Axford.
Trading the expendable Lawrie, acquired last winter in the Josh Donaldson deal, got the A's a pair of Minor League pitchers in return: right-hander J.B. Wendelken and lefty Zack Erwin.
Axford, meanwhile, is the fourth reliever acquired by the A's this winter -- joining Ryan Madson, Liam Hendriks and Marc Rzepczynski -- and the second, along with Madson, who has experience closing games, providing the club insurance behind incumbent closer Sean Doolittle. Both also happen to be hard-throwing right-handers, a descriptor that also fits Hendriks. The trio combined to clock in an average fastball velocity of 94.9 mph. The A's bullpen, in contrast, posted an average fastball velocity of 92 mph, which ranked 29th in the Majors.
"One of the things we probably didn't have that some of the other bullpens had were hard throwers, guys that come in and miss bats, throwing 95, 96 [mph]," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We had a couple of guys, but it seems like most bullpens, every time that bullpen door opens up, someone is coming out of the bullpen throwing hard, so that's key."
While that hasn't been the overriding factor in picking and choosing from the relief market, A's general manager David Forst noted, "It's a dynamic we talked about adding, for sure."
"When the pitching coach and Bob sit and look at their options," Forst said, "it's nice to have different choices, different pitchers."
But at a cost. Madson, despite just completing his first big league season since 2011, will make $22 million over the next three seasons. The A's were likely forced to overpay slightly to separate themselves from a swarming field of suitors, but the contract still falls in line with market prices.
"You're not getting deals out there because people have seen the effect of a really effective, deep bullpen," Forst said. "It's something everyone is out there looking for."
Starting pitchers are no exception. Zack Greinke set the bar with a record-shattering contract -- the Diamondbacks gave him a $206.5 million, six-year deal -- and the next tier of arms won't come cheap.
"They're still pretty expensive," Forst said. "Getting free-agent starting pitchers is not an easy proposition. I don't see that changing just because a couple of the highest-priced guys signed."
Whether that deters the A's from adding a veteran starter to their rotation remains to be seen.
"We continue to check in and hope there's somewhere to make a move," Forst said, "but I can't say for sure something's going to fall to where it's doable for us."