Oakland general manager Billy Beane has been willing to swap closers year in and year out, more or less operating under the assumption that his team can eventually find someone capable of handling the ninth inning. Beane let Jason Isringhausen walk away via free agency. He traded Billy Koch and Huston Street. Not every team has the luxury of Mariano Rivera — if Rivera were in Oakland, I’m betting Beane would change his closer strategy — so they have to go searching for ninth-inning relievers.
The A’s found a gem in Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey, who just last year had a 6.18 Double-A ERA at the all-star break. After the break, the A’s told Bailey they were going to do one of two things: Convert him to the bullpen or move him down to High-A. They went with the bullpen idea and he finished the season with a 0.92 ERA as a reliever, still in Double-A.
“It was my first big league spring training camp (this spring) so my goal was just to make an impression on the organization and the major league coaching staff,” Bailey said during this afternoon’s conference call. “… Hopefully when September call-ups came around or they needed help in the bullpen, my name was one of the first to come out of their mouth.”
Bailey said he was nervous facing Double-A hitters. He went away from his aggressive nature and started trying to sink the ball and hit corners. Moving to the bullpen got him out of that mode.
It’s a story worth remembering this spring. The Yankees aren’t going to be looking for a closer, but they might be looking for someone to jump into that eighth inning role. We can try to dissect the candidates all winter — and we probably will — but the fact is that very few people would have guessed that Phil Hughes would fill that role this season. Every one brought into camp can become a legitimate candidate. Things can suddenly click for a pitcher. I have no idea why or how, but we’ve all seen it happen, and it could happen again.
UPDATE, 3:41 p.m.: Speaking of surprises. Florida’s Chris Coghlan had also never played above Double-A before this season, he had never played the outfield until the day before he was called up from Triple-A and he had never been a lead-off hitter until Florida put him at the top of the order.
Out of spring training, Coghlan was sent to Triple-A where he opened in the infield. During today’s conference call, Coghlan said he was told that the Marlins were going to move him to the outfield with hopes of a possible call-up in a week or so. He played one game in left field, caught no fly balls, and joined the Marlins in Colorado the next day.
“I felt like I had an opportunity to make this team (out of spring training),” Coghlan said. “Obviously that didn’t work, I went to Triple-A. I didn’t want to go to Triple-A, but it was a blessing for me.”
When he got to the big leagues, Coghlan hit .212 for the first month. After the all-star break he hit .372, batting better than .380 in each of the last two months.
“There wasn’t any doubt,” Coghlan said. “This game, I feel like always confidence is such a huge thing. Even though I had never done anything in the major leagues, I was confident in what I had done in years past.”
Understandably, I’ve always gotten a lot of questions about who from Triple-A can help the big league team. There are always one or two names tha jump to mind immediately, but I like to say — and I honestly believe — anyone who gets to Triple-A has enough talent to help at the big league level. It’s a matter of opportunity, and it’s usually a matter of one or two things coming together.
Be excited about Austin Jackson and Jesus Montero, but don’t discount the rest. Remember that Francisco Cervelli was pretty awful in Trenton before his call-up this season. Baseball is a long season and player development is a long process. Help can come from just about anywhere.