Melvin sees this A’s bullpen as his best yet

Bob Melvin ended the 2013 season with a bullpen he believed was the best he’d ever had at his disposal.

The relievers A’s manager Melvin called on last season went 24-18 with a 3.22 earned run average. The bullpen was the backbone of a second consecutive American League West title. The relievers won or saved 70 of the A’s 96 wins.

Now with spring training’s start drawing close, the manager says the Oakland bullpen for 2014 could be his best ever.

   The A’s lost closer Grant Balfour (he signed Thursday as a free agent with Tampa Bay) and lefty setup man Jerry Blevins (traded to Washington), but much of the off-season has been dedicated to watching Oakland’s front office add bullpen depth.

First on board was Fernando Abad, a left-hander who came in a deal with the Washington Nationals. Then the A’s traded with Baltimore for closer Jim Johnson and with San Diego for right-hander Luke Gregerson to kick off the Winter Meetings.

A week later saw the A’s pry lefty Drew Pomeranz from the Colorado Rockies on the trade of 2013 opening day starter Brett Anderson

And this week the club added Eric O’Flaherty, a lefty who is coming off Tommy John surgery but who could be in the middle of the bullpen by mid-season.

Install Johnson and his back-to-back 50-save seasons in as the closer and add in top-notch setup men Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle and Dan Otero and the A’s have the makings of what could be Melvin’s dream bullpen.

“There’s no doubt this we are very deep in the bullpen,’’ Melvin said. “And we’ve seen what impact having quality relievers has on the rest of the team. The bullpen we have now is deep and it is quality. We’re better now than we were.

“Gregerson was a great pickup, adding him to Cook and Otero from the right side. I’m comfortable having any of them pitching in close late games. With Doolittle, we have the time to look at Pomeranz or Abad from the left side.’’

And the A’s have time to wait on O’Flaherty. The club normally wouldn’t have gone two years on a reliever from another organization coming off Tommy John surgery, but the A’s weren’t the only team deeply interested in the 28-year-old lefty, and it took a two-year, $7 million offer to seal the deal.

O’Flaherty has been a go-to man out of the bullpen for the Braves the last five seasons, posting a 13-7 record and 1.99 ERA, all of it in setup work. He was terrific in April and May last year before needing Tommy John-style ligament replacement surgery. He’d like to be ready in May or June, but the expectation is that July is a more reasonable time to plan on his return.

“This is a quality guy,’’ Melvin said. “Historically he’s one of the top left-handed setup guys. You’re not going to want to rush him, but we’re excited to have him.’’

The A’s may wind up with one more left-hander in the bullpen by the time spring training comes to an end. Lefty starter Tommy Milone has put up big numbers for the A’s the last two seasons – 25 wins and a 3.92 ERA. But with the addition of lefty Scott Kazmir and the returns of Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily and Sonny Gray, Milone likely will have to put together a big spring showing to make the A’s rotation this time around.

For that reason, and because the A’s like to have a long man available in the bullpen, Milone could be slated to be an innings-eater in the bullpen.

John Hickey

A longtime baseball writer three years into in his second go-round covering to the Oakland A's beat after a dozen years covering the Seattle Mariners. Covered the A's through the late 1980s and 1990s.