Oakland Athletics: Who Will Win the Remaining Bullpen Job?

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Oakland Athletics
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Left-Hander Eric Surkamp

There’s a 2010 NPR radio spot by contributor Frank Deford, in which he half-jokingly states that parents who want to give their sons every advantage in life should save their money on expensive education and experiences.

"“Instead, tie his right arm behind his back as soon as he gets out of the crib and teach him to be a left-handed relief pitcher, and that kid of yours will still be making a good living pitching when you’re in assisted living.”"

Of course, Deford was not being literal, but he has a point. Alvarez wound up fourth on this list, not because he’s less of a pitcher than Eric Surkamp, but because Surkamp has the decided advantage of being a lefty. The Athletics will not be able to rely on Rzepczynski the entire season, and they also don’t have a lot of flexibility in the event of a short start or extra-inning game, given that most of their bullpen arms are veteran major leaguers. Even though Surkamp is probably the inferior pitcher to Alvarez, his handedness makes him a better candidate.

Surkamp’s most used pitch is his four-seam fastball, which sits somewhere between the high 80s and low 90s.

According to FanGraphs, he also throws a cutter, curveball and changeup. All in all, he’s a pretty standard left-handed relief pitcher.

He appeared in just one game for the Dodgers last season, giving up four earned runs in 3.1 innings. Prior to that, however, he was moderately successful as a White Sox reliever (at least by left-handed standards). Surkamp posted a 4.81 ERA in 35 appearances out of the bullpen for Chicago.

The 28-year-old also missed all of 2012 after having Tommy John surgery.

The reason the Athletics’ were intrigued by Surkamp, who began his career in the San Francisco Giants’ system, has to do with his cutter. That’s a new pitch for him, and they think it could add a new element to his game.

So far this spring, Surkamp has posted a 4.50 ERA in three games. Over six innings of work, he’s allowed three runs, three walks and nine hits, while striking out three batters. He’s done a fairly good job of limiting the damage – that averages out to two baserunners each inning, and he’s kept them from scoring – but he’ll have to get better at reducing the overall traffic, because those runners could come back to haunt him.

Surkamp is another pitcher who could be useful to the A’s later in the season, either out of the bullpen or at the back-end of the rotation, if necessary. In the meantime, he’s more useful to the A’s as a starter in the minor leagues. The organization’s starting depth is very weak, and they can use someone like Surkamp to fill out their Triple-A rotation. Because he signed a minor league deal, the A’s don’t have to worry about the fact he has no options left – at least to start the season. It will limit the amount of situations they are able to call him up in later on, given that he would have to clear waivers to return to the minors.

Next: #2: The best right-handed option