A.J. Griffin Signed By Rangers, May Haunt Oakland Athletics

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At the end of November, the Oakland Athletics released starting pitcher A.J. Griffin. Although Griffin faced an uphill battle for a rotation spot in Oakland — given the recent acquisitions of Rich Hill and Henderson Alvarez — it is still surprising that the A’s did not hang on to him for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that the Athletics are certainly aware of the value of reserve starting pitching depth. By the end of the 2015 season, injuries (and illnesses) left the A’s with a Four-A caliber starting rotation. Consider this: Since Sonny Gray’s August 30th illness, three A’s starters missed multiple starts due to injuries. That means 60 percent of A’s starters was scratched in the final month and a half of the season.

Griffin has been injury-prone since 2013, but it did seem like another off-season of recovery from Tommy John surgery would put him in a position to be a valuable backup starting pitching option for the parts of the long season that the A’s would invariably suffer injuries. 

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The second reason Griffin’s release is surprising is that Griffin threw two solid sub-4.00 ERA seasons with the A’s in 2012 and 2013, and it seemed like he was primed to compete for a regular starting rotation role this Spring Training. He is understandably criticized for his tendency to give up the long ball, but it is important to understand the context he gave up those home runs. 31 of his 46 home runs (67 percent) were solo home runs. It could be less that his stuff is easily hit out of the park, and more that he was one part of a young battery that challenged batters in low-leverage situations. 

Home runs aside, Griffin pitched to impress in his two seasons in Oakland. His 171 strikeouts in 2013 was the 17th most in the American League, and his combined 1.126 WHIP indicates that he effectively kept people off base. Although he was never going to be a contender for the top of the rotation the way he was three years ago, it is surprising that the A’s let go of some pretty obvious pitching depth.

And now he’s a Ranger.

The Texas Rangers signed Griffin to a Minor League deal early last week, and it includes an invite to Spring Training. Like in Oakland, he won’t be able to compete for a top of the rotation spot as long as Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels are there. However, he is certainly capable of outmatching Derek Holland and Martin Perez. Griffin will have an uphill battle since he still hasn’t pitched an entire season since his surgery, but the Rangers won’t be able to refuse him a rotation spot if he returns to 2013 form.

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Griffin will pitch at the Coliseum again, but he’s going to do it in a Rangers uniform.

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