The A’s began a wholesale restructuring of their pitching staff Friday, signing left-hander Rich Hill to fill a spot in the starting rotation and trading sometimes-starter Jesse Chavez to Toronto for right-handed reliever Liam Hendriks.
Oakland is taking a chance on both. Hill was pitching for the independent Long Island Ducks mid-summer, but turned it around and by September was dominant over a four-start stretch for the Boston Red Sox.
After struggling as a starter, Hendriks, 27, came into his own as a reliever with the Blue Jays in 2015, going 5-0 with a 2.92 ERA in helping Toronto win the American League East title. He routinely pitched at 94 and 95 mph, striking out 71 in 64.2 innings while walking just 11.
The addition of Hill, which came at the expense of starter A.J. Griffin being designated for assignment, is likely a one-year move. But Hendriks will be under club control for four years. Chavez will be eligible for free agency after 2016.
“He immediately becomes a big part of our bullpen,’’ general manager David Forst said of Hendriks. “Potentially he pitches at the back end of the pen. He had a fantastic year, and it is significant to us having him under player control for four years. This move gave us a chance to set up for the longer term.’’
The move completely blindsided Chavez, who made 26 starts and ended the season bounced from the rotation by a fractured rib, which is healing nicely. He is going back to the team that sold his contract to the A’s late in 2012
“I’m surprised, especially for it to happen so early; we’re not even at the winter meetings yet,’’ Chavez said. “It threw me off. I’m very confused. This is the first place I was in for multiple years, and that’s a big thing to get over. Other than that, I’m excited. I’m going back to a place I know and I’ll help them out as best I can.’’
Chavez, 32, won’t be the only familiar face gone after a 7-15 season that included a 4.18 ERA. The A’s had 10 days to trade Griffin, release him or, if he clears waivers, sign him to a minor league deal. Griffin was a regular in the rotation the second half of 2012 and all of 2013, but he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues in the last two seasons after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his elbow, then suffering shoulder surgery late in the season.
Hill gives the A’s depth in a rotation that was plagued by injuries all season long in 2015. He began the season in the minor leagues, was released by Toronto, went home, took a two-game starting gig with Long Island where he made two starts and didn’t allow a run in 11 innings.
The Red Sox signed him after that, and in the second half of September, he was the best Boston starter, going 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts, allowing just 14 hits and five walks in 29 innings. He did it by making changes, moving to the third base side of the pitching mound, returning to an over-the-top delivery and his pitches suddenly began missing hitters’ bats.
“I always had that desire to get back to starting,’’ Hill said. “The opportunity presented itself over the summer. I left Syracuse and had the opportunity to get back in what I wanted to do with Long Island, to show everybody what I could do.’’
“He effectively changed the pitcher he is,’’ Forst said. “Looking at the pitch-by-pitch data, you can see the things, the way hitters react to the ball.’’
–Earlier in the day, the A’s selected the contracts of left-handed pitcher Jose Torres from Class-A Stockton and second baseman Joey Wendle from Triple-A Nashville. Torres pitched in Class-A for Beloit and Stockton and went 4-5 with a 2.56 ERA and eight saves in 47 games. Wendle, picked up from Cleveland in the Brandon Moss trade last off-season, hit .289 with 10 homers, and he led the Pacific Coast League in hits (137).
–At the same time, left-handed reliever Fernando Abad and outfielder Craig Gentry went on the designated for assignment list.
–The general manager didn’t say that money was no object for the traditionally low-spending team, but he did say “right now payroll is not an issue; we don’t anticipate making moves based on money. We’ve got room to spend; we’ve got to find the right guys.’’ The A’s, who had an $83 million payroll last year, have about $30 million committed to four players, including Hill, Coco Crisp ($11 million), Billy Butler ($11.667 million) and Sean Doolittle ($1.58 million).
–The A’s finished the season with seven players on the disabled list. Forst said all are progressing well, singling out starters Jarrod Parker and Hahn and first baseman Ike Davis.