Did the A’s take too big a risk in signing Rich Hill?
The Oakland Athletics signed 35-year-old veteran left-hander Rich Hill to a one-year, $6 million contract Tuesday afternoon. This move by Oakland looks, at least at first glance, pretty risky – but may not be as big a gamble as it appears.
Hill is essentially getting a $5 million raise from the highest salary he’s ever been paid, and the A’s are not on what you’d call a “big budget.” Their highest paid player is currently Coco Crisp, who makes $11 million per season, so $6 million can, in this case, be looked at as a high number for an aging pitcher with a somewhat strange background in the majors.
According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, there were other, higher offers in terms of money, but it was the guarantee that he wouldn’t be pitching out of the bullpen that sealed the deal with the A’s. If Hill did actually have a big market, then he is desirable around the league, leading to speculation that maybe there is more to Hill than meets the eye. Perhaps signing Hill isn’t a big risk at all.
Rich Hill had a big market, and one team said it had a bigger-money offer on table than Oakland’s. Hill liked A’s guaranteed rotation spot.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 18, 2015
Hill spent most of last season on the Boston Red Sox Triple-A club. The Red Sox called on him for four starts at the end of last season, and Hill was virtually unhittable. In 29 innings, Hill allowed just five runs while striking out 36 batters and walking just five. He switched up his pitches, relying more on his curveball than his four-seam fastball, and he completely stopped using his two-seamer. The results were great, and Hill was able to induce more ground balls and therefore more ground-ball outs.
He’s had an interesting 11-year career playing for the Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, a very short stint with the Los Angeles Angels in 2014 and then the New York Yankees and back to Boston at the end of last season. He spent most of that time bouncing around as a lefty reliever and spot starter, as injuries and poor performances kept his role on each of the different teams limited.
Hill will join ace Sonny Gray in the A’s starting rotation, and the A’s have plenty of other starting pitchers to fill out their rotation. There will be veteran Jesse Chavez, assuming he doesn’t get traded, and then there are youngsters Jesse Hahn, Aaron Brooks, Kendall Graveman, Chris Bassitt and Sean Nolin. Drew Pomeranz is another option; however, traditionally, he’s pitched better out of the bullpen during his career.
They also may have A.J. Griffin and Jarrod Parker. Both underwent Tommy John surgery in early 2014, both had setbacks while rehabbing in 2015 and have effectively missed two full seasons. It was also the second Tommy John procedure for Parker, so no one really knows what to expect upon his return. Should they return healthy, that’s just more back-up for the Athletics if things with Hill don’t work out.
There is still the question of the $6 million on a pitcher, who despite being a veteran, is technically unproven except in his 2007 season and the end of last season with Boston. The A’s have enough starting pitching depth to take over for Hill, and it isn’t as though they haven’t had to eat money here and there before, with Jim Johnson’s $10 million most recently coming to mind. Unlike Johnson however, Hill had changed his repertoire of pitches around and it worked in 2015.
If it works again and he can even string together a handful of starts like he did in Boston, he could end up being a great free agent pick-up. If that happens, he could be put on the list of free-agent bargains that could help the A’s; of course, to know that for sure we’ll have to wait and see. The A’s took a relatively small risk that could potentially end up being one of the best deals of the offseason.