Image credit: Andrew Chafin (Norm Hall/Getty Images)
The Athletics moved aggressively to add to their bullpen mix Monday night, nearing a deal to acquire LHP Andrew Chafin from the Cubs.
Chafin, 31, was considered one of the better relief arms on the market this July. Oakland will send back OF Greg Deichmann and RHP Daniel Palencia, two of its 20 best prospects.
Oakland has won the AL West each of the last two seasons, due in part because it had a top-five bullpen in baseball in each of those seasons. But the A’s predictably saw a bit of an exodus of relievers this offseason in free agency, headlined by all-star closer Liam Hendriks, and the bullpen has backed up somewhat in 2021, ranking 10th in ERA and 20th in fWAR. It didn’t help that offseason acquisition Trevor Rosenthal was beset by injuries almost immediately and underwent hip surgery in July.
Chafin joins a group that’s a bit long in the tooth — LHP Jake Diekman (34), Sergio Romo (38) and RHP Yusmeiro Petit (36) all log high-leverage innings in Oakland — and will play a vital role in helping Oakland stay competitive in the American League playoff picture. The A’s currently sit 5.5 games behind the Astros in the AL West and occupy the second Wild Card spot, just 1.5 games ahead of a surging Mariners team that just took three of four them.
This is the second consecutive deadline deal for Chafin. Chicago acquired the lefty last August via the D-backs during the truncated 2020 season, and his 2.06 ERA is tied for eighth-best among all qualified National League relievers this year. Chafin is under team control through 2021 and has a $5.25 million mutual option for 2022.
Notable midseason bullpen acquisitions are becoming the norm in Oakland. The A’s Oakland Diekman in a July deal with the Royals two years ago and he has since become one of manager Bob Melvin’s most trusted bullpen options. The year prior, Oakland added RHP Jeurys Familia for the stretch run.
Greg Deichmann, OF
Deichmann, who was set to rank No. 7 on the A’s midseason Top 30 Prospects list, has been a bit of a confounding prospect in Oakland. Injuries dating back to his final year at LSU in 2017 delayed his development, explaining why he’s just now getting regular Triple-A reps at 26 years old. When healthy, he’s shown easy plus raw power from the left side, highlighted by a memorable 2019 Arizona Fall League showing in which he ambushed pitchers to the tune of nine homers in 23 games. But Deichmann didn’t get to that power in games as much as one might expect, hampered by a strikeout rate that hovered around 30% in 2018 and 2019. Deichmann took steps to alleviate the swing-and-miss concerns this year, shortening his swing and tightening his approach at Triple-A Las Vegas. The result was a surging walk rate (19.1%) and a much more palatable strikeout rate (23%). Now the question is how frequently he’ll get to that power. He’s been productive, hitting .300/.432/.449, but not as powerful as you’d expect, hitting just four homers. Deichmann has a strong arm and adequate speed, and can capably handle right field.
Daniel Palencia, RHP
Palencia emerged from unknown to one of Oakland’s most intriguing pitching prospects this year and was set to rank No. 19 on their midseason Top 30. Already 21, the A’s signed Palencia out of Venezuela last February but didn’t see him in action until this spring because of the 2020 shutdown. Palencia arrived throwing gas, touching triple digits in extended spring training before quickly getting promoted to Low-A Stockton, where he was used as a starting pitcher in two and three inning increments. He’s sturdily built at 5-foot-10 with a strong lower half that allows him to unleash a fastball that sits 97-99 and has impressive late life. So far, Palencia has been a fastball-heavy pitcher, but he does show feel for a curveball, throwing it with inconsistent depth and command. He also has an 89-91 fading changing but uses it sparingly. Because of the raw secondaries and a longer arm action, some expect Palencia to one day become a reliever, but the A’s believed the ingredients were there to remain a starting pitcher and even potentially had plans to introduce a cutter in the near future. Palencia is clearly quite raw, but the fastball and arm strength cannot be ignored.
Andrew Chafin, LHP
Chafin’s deftly minimized hard contact all season, yielding an average exit velocity (86.2 mph) and expected slugging percentage (.285) that places him in the 92nd percentile or better across baseball. Chafin isn’t an overpowering lefty arm, operating with a low-90s sinker and four-seam fastball, as well as a low-80s slider that batters are hitting .045 against so far this year. He’s throwing his sinker 46% of the time this year, the most since he solidified himself as a big league relief option in 2015 and 2016.