Posted on January 12, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine

San Francisco Giants Santiago Casilla

Image via mlb.ncbsports.com

It took a while, but the Oakland Athletics are starting to make some moves this offseason. After signing outfielder Rajai Davis and third baseman Trevor Plouffe, the A’s have now strengthened their pitching staff by agreeing to a deal with reliever Santiago Casilla. The team has yet to confirm the deal, but reports indicate that the A’s and Casilla have agreed to a two-year contract worth $11 million with an additional $3 million possible in incentives.

The deal will keep Casilla in the Bay Area after he spent the last seven years with the San Francisco Giants. For Casilla, the move is also a return to the team that originally signed him in 2000 out of the Dominican Republic. At that time, he was known as Jairo Garcia before revealing in 2006 that he had lied about his age and name.

Casilla had a great run in San Francisco, helping the Giants win the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. In 25 career postseason appearances, Casilla holds a 0.92 ERA. He was also part of the Dominican team that won the World Baseball Classic in 2013, as baseball has been very good to Casilla over the years.

Unfortunately, his tenure with the Giants did not end well. Casilla blew nine saves in 2016, posting a 3.57 ERA, his highest during his time in San Francisco. In September, Casilla was removed from the closer’s role after continuing to struggle late in games. Casilla then caused some controversy after the Giants were eliminated from the postseason in October, expressing his dismay at not being used in Game 4 of the NLDS, even as the Giants used five pitches in a single inning.

After being losing his job as the closer and his rift with the Giants during the postseason, it was always unlikely that Casilla would re-sign in San Francisco. Instead, he has patiently waited out many of the top relief pitchers on the market and ended up with a rather lucrative lucrative deal for a 36-year old coming off his worst season in more than half a decade.

On the surface, it’s easy to think that Casilla is over the hill and heading towards a sharp decline. However, there are reasons to believe he can bounce back from a rough season in 2016. Despite more blown saves and a higher ERA, Casilla’s peripherals were nearly identical in 2016 to what they were in 2015 when he saved 38 games in 44 opportunities and pitched to a 2.79 ERA. He also had the best strikeout rate and second lowest walk rate of his career in 2016, nor did he appear to lose any velocity off his fastball.

In his return to Oakland, Casilla may not be guaranteed the closer’s job, but he’ll certainly be a pitcher the A’s go to in the late innings. Ryan Madson is the incumbent closer after saving 30 games for the A’s last year, although he had seven blown saves and did show some signs of decline. Veterans John Axford and Sean Doolittle also bring experience as a closer, although Casilla figures to be higher in the pecking order than both.

How manager Bob Melvin chooses to organize Oakland’s bullpen remains to be seen, but with Casilla added to the mix, the A’s now have four relievers with closing experience. The age of Casilla and Madson make it difficult to project Oakland’s bullpen as being one of the most dominant in the game. But the A’s will certainly have one of the most experienced bullpens in baseball, and the addition of Casilla will make Oakland stronger late in games.

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