Oakland Athletics

Blake Treinen becomes the hottest relief pitcher commodity on free agent market

Blake Treinen’s time with the Oakland Athletics is over after a disastrous 2019 season. So who will take a risk by picking up the former All-Star?

Blake Treinen’s powerful sinker led the Oakland Athletics to the postseason in 2018. But in a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately scenario, he’s gone from the Bay Area after one down season.

Treinen has been non-tendered by the Athletics ahead of Monday’s 8 p.m. ET deadline, making the 31-year-old right-hander a free agent. Treinen made $6.4 million last season and was due to earn around $8 million in arbitration before hitting the market in 2021. For the cost-conscious Athletics, that pay raise proved enough to justify parting with a pitcher who was the best reliever in baseball just two seasons ago.

Treinen’s 2018 season was one for the record books. His 0.78 ERA was the lowest in Major League history among pitchers with at least 80 innings. That was enough to earn him his first All-Star game appearance in his five-year career and a sixth-place showing in American League Cy Young voting.

In 2019, though, Treinen’s performance took a dramatic dip. Instead of having the best ERA in history, he ranked 130th out of 149 relievers with at least 50 innings at 4.91. His strikeout rate dropped more than two points (11.2 to 9.05), his ground ball rate fell by nine points (51.9 percent to 42.8), and his percentage of hard-hit balls went up seven points (29.2 to 36.7).

For a pitcher who relies on his sharp-breaking sinker, he ranked 40th in the American League in ground ball rate and 45th in strikeouts per nine innings; in 2018 he was seventh and 15th, respectively, in those same categories. Batters hit .292 on his sinker this season compared to .223 in 2018. He gave up one home run on a sinker in 2018 but four this season. The disparity was even greater when he went to his four-seam fastball, as opposing hitters improved their average from .070 to .250.

Control issues plagued Treinen throughout the 2019 season. He was 145th in the league with 5.68 walks per nine innings. In 2018, he was 27th, issuing more than three fewer walks per nine innings. That drop in effectiveness was a big reason why he lost his closing role to Liam Hendriks this season before going on the IL with a season-ending back injury in mid-September.

Now that Treinen is a free agent, potential suitors have to figure out which version they would be getting if they make a run at signing him. If it’s the Treinen from 2018, a potential deal would be a bargain. But if he proves that he’s not over his 2019 struggles, his new club will be filled with regret.

One team that is suitable for such a reclamation project is the New York Yankees. Even if Dellin Betances, who made just one appearance this season, leaves in free agency, the Yankees bullpen is loaded and would allow Treinen to ease into a new role. They made a similar move in 2018, trading for Zack Britton from the Baltimore Orioles after the left-hander started experiencing unexpected troubles. Without the pressure of being the closer, Britton has a 2.19 ERA in pinstripes since being acquired by the Yankees.

Treinen might not be the right-handed version of Britton, but the Yankees would be well-suited to finding out what he has left. The risk is high but, as he showed just two seasons ago, so is the reward.

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