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Oakland Athletics 2011 Preview: Bullpen Acquisitions Could Prove Key

The Oakland Athletics offseason preparations included a variety of transactions meant to shore up their bullpen. The A’s bullpen was very solid last season, but this year they could prove to be an excellent corps of relievers. The most significant acquisitions were pitchers Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour. Fuentes has significant closing experience, while Balfour has been a very solid setup man. Once Andrew Bailey gets off the DL, Fuentes and Balfour will settle into the top two set-up roles.

Speaking of Bailey’s DL visit, the signings of Fuentes and Balfour have proven even more important. The A’s other relievers could have filled the role temporarily, but Fuentes has been an All Star closer in the past. The additions of Fuentes and Balfour alone should raise the A’s bullpen from solid to excellent.

Beyond Fuentes and Balfour, the A’s have significant talent waiting in the wings. Outside of the current 25-man relievers (listed below), the A’s are waiting on Joey Devine and Rich Harden to get completely recovered from their injury issues. Additionally, Tyson Ross and Josh Outman will be starting in the minors, but could be utilized in the bullpen. Nico at Athletics Nation pointed to how valuable this depth could prove:

As the inevitable injuries and setbacks hit the bullpen, Joey Devine, Rich Harden, and if necessary Josh Outman and Tyson Ross, will be emerging. It would take an awful lot of adversity for the A’s to lose relievers faster than they can replace them with very good options.

Really the worst will be the first week, as Craig Breslow and Michael Wuertz are still catching up and might be pushed into higher leverage situations than would be ideal, but that’s a very short term issue.

The value of a strong bullpen is the ability to turn a nine inning game into a five- or six-inning game. The A’s already have a strong starting rotation. A strong bullpen will allow Bob Geren to pull a starter early, while a strong starter allows him to rest his bullpen when needed. It’s a win-win situation that could be the difference-maker when it comes to winning the American League West.

RHP Andrew Bailey – Disabled List to start season
LHP Brian Fuentes
RHP Grant Balfour
LHP Jerry Blevins
LHP Craig Breslow
LHP Bobby Cramer
RHP Michael Wuertz
RHP Brad Ziegler