Major League Baseball’s free agency period is officially open, with the game’s biggest stars chasing mega deals. Former Los Angeles Angel Shohei Ohtani seems likely to set the record for the largest free agent contract we’ve ever seen. The Oakland Athletics aren’t going to set any records this offseason, at least not in terms of money spent.
The A’s will need to get creative to fill the holes on the roster heading into 2024. The outfield seems close to set, as does the right side of the infield. Third base and shortstop are major question marks, and there are unanswered questions with the rotation and bullpen. It was reported that the A’s stripped their analytics staff to the bones over the last couple of years. The days of moneyball seem to be long gone.
So, what can the A’s do? They need to hit on the players they sign for cheap money, and that hasn’t happened of late. The Aledmys Diaz contract was a miss, as was Drew Rucinski. Where the A’s decide to spend their money, if they spend it at all, is up in the air. But there are a couple names we can look at toward the bottom of the free agent list that might make sense, both from a financial perspective as well as a performance one. These names might not be pretty, but this feels like what we realistically must deal with.
The A's need pitchers. These two players could help.
Chris Vallimont spent the past two years in Baltimore’s system before coming up for a cup of coffee in July of 2023. He pitched to a 5.20 ERA in 129.1 innings at Triple-A Norfolk over the last two seasons but pitched well in his lone Major League appearance this year. The Orioles designated him for assignment in July and he was picked up by the Guardians.
After spending the final two months of the season in Columbus, where he struggled to get outs and his control slipped, he was let go and is currently a free agent. He allowed 16 walks in 29 innings for the Guardians’ Triple-A club but did get a bit unlucky with a 17.6% HR/FB rate.
Vallimont’s strengths have always been velocity and the ability to get whiffs. His fastball sits in the mid-90’s, and he has a slider/change combo that work well against righties. He spent most of his time in the minors as a starter but after Cleveland picked him up, he worked primarily out of the bullpen. They expected his stuff to play up in the pen, and it didn’t work out in the small sample.
Why would this move make sense for the A’s? Vallimont will be available for short money, and he’s shown the potential to be a strikeout pitcher. He whiffed over 35% of hitters in Double-A as recently as 2022. Even if he works as a piggy-back starter or in a long relief role, Vallimont still has the potential to be an effective piece of a major league pitching staff.
Another pitcher in a similar mold is former Marlins reliever Johan Quezada. A whopping 6’9” and 255lb, Quezada has the gas to match, with a fastball that sits high-90’s. He’s gotten his share of strikeouts in the minors, but his flaw is the command. He’s already 29 and has spent ten years bouncing around between the Twins, Cardinals, and Marlins systems.
Most recently, Quezada spent the year with the Marlins Triple-A club, where he pitched to a 4.39 ERA and struck out 21.8% of hitters. Quezada was called up and pitched in one game for the Marlins this year and was hit hard. There’s certainly risk in the profile. There’s risk in any pitcher this far down the list. However, if you’ve got this type of velocity, it’s worth taking a shot.
It's possible the A’s could work with Quezada to reign in the control problems or add a third pitch to work alongside the fastball/slider combo he currently runs with. Dial back the velocity a touch, add in a changeup or another off-speed pitch like a sinker, and you might have a workable pitcher.
The A’s might add a player or two in this tier of free agency, or they may just sift through the waiver pile for their additions. John Fisher is clearly more interested in moving the franchise to Las Vegas than in providing a budget to allow David Forst to build a competitive roster. Until the ballpark situation is settled, we might not have much in the way of free agency excitement.