The bullpen for the Oakland Athletics has been a strength over the last two years as the team has enjoyed renewed success. The emergence of Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle along with the likes of Jerry Blevins and Dan Otero has stabilized the bullpen. Grant Balfour took over the closer role for good in late 2012, but he will be in a different uniform in 2014 in all likelihood, having priced himself out of Oakland. It’s unclear who will take over Balfour’s role, be it Cook or Doolittle, or even Otero as has been suggested by some, or if the A’s will look outside of the organization to find the solution for the ninth inning.
An option for the A’s, regardless of whether they decide to hand the reigns over to an in-house solution, would be former Twins, White Sox, and (sort of) Rays hurler Jesse Crain. Many A’s fans might remember Crain was on the mound when Marco Scutaro cleared the bases with a double down the right field line in the 2006 ALDS, that hit pretty much sealed that the A’s were finally going to advance to the ALCS after years of failed attempts. That outing notwithstanding, Crain has put together a very nice career in the bullpen to this point, and was en route to a spectacular year with the White Sox in 2013 before injuries halted his season.
Crain worked just 36.2 innings in 2013, but posted an excellent 0.74 ERA for the White Sox in 2013. Each of the three years prior, Crain’s ERA has steadily declined. While the chances of him posting a sub-1.00 ERA over the course of a full season are slim, an ERA in the 2.44-2.62 range he had in 2011 and 2012 would be more than acceptable. His walk rate over the course of his career is a little high, at 3.5/9 innings, but he improved upon that in 2013, lowering it to 2.7. Each of the last two years he’s struck out batters at exactly the same rate, 11.3/9 innings.
An addition like Jesse Crain would do wonders for insuring the bullpen doesn’t collapse on itself should the A’s have problems at the closer spot. I would like to see Crain as a set up man, as a compliment to Ryan Cook in the late innings. He could possibly be had on a one-year contract, maybe with an option. If it weren’t for his injury last year, it would likely take a three-year pact to lure Crain in. The A’s need to fortify their pen if they don’t want the team to miss a beat in 2014, Crain would be a perfect fit.