Oakland Athletics: Who Will Fill the Setup Man Role in 2016?


Which Oakland Athletics Reliever Will Fill the Setup Man Role Next Season?

Throughout November and December, the Oakland Athletics have been slowly rebuilding their bullpen. Now that the Winter Meetings are over, the pen seems to be stronger than before. Even though the A’s have more reliable relief arms, the roles within the bullpen are still undefined – except for the closer position of course, which will be filled by Sean Doolittle.

The setup man role is a very important position to have established before the 2016 season begins. Thankfully, the A’s have many options. First it was righty Liam Hendriks, who is said to have setup man potential. He could fill that role if not this year, then definitely in the future. Then Oakland signed free agent Ryan Madson, who had an unbelievable comeback in 2015. He has been both a setup man and a closer. Finally, the A’s were able to snag the Colorado Rockies’ former closer John Axford, who could easily pitch in the eighth inning based on his past experience.

So, who will fill this particular position in the bullpen? As many saw this past year, undefined roles within the pen cause instability, and ultimately results in a weak relief staff. Even though each reliever knows he could go in at any moment, it is always nice to have a sense of when and why he may take the mound during a game.

Based on experience alone, Axford is the obvious choice for the setup man role. He has almost exclusively pitched as a closer or setup man throughout his six years in the majors. Axford knows how to handle the pressure and has been effective in the past in both of these roles. However, he did have one of his worst seasons to date this past year. So, if Axford cannot improve upon his 2015 numbers while with Oakland in 2016, then he may be demoted.

Madson is the wild card. He could fill the role, but many are wary as to how he will perform this upcoming season. This will only be his second year back in the big leagues after missing three consecutive seasons, so Madson will be closely monitored in 2016. He will probably not start off in the setup man position even though he has filled that role for many teams in the past. But, if Madson is able to perform well and Axford struggles, Madson could find himself setting up save opportunities for Doolittle.

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If Axford and Madson both fail to find success in Oakland, then the A’s always have Hendriks. Since Hendriks is under team control until 2019, the Athletics will likely slowly mold him into their future setup man. This upcoming season will only be the second year that this former starter will pitch as a reliever full time, so he will really have to build up his skills as a relief pitcher over the next couple of years in order to earn the setup man position with the Athletics.

Overall, the A’s have a stronger bullpen. Now, they just need to assign the various roles. This will help stabilize pen and help the relievers become successful next year.