Courtesy of wunderkind news breaker Robert Murray, we now know that the A’s signed Rich Hill to a one year contract worth 6 million dollars, with a guaranteed spot in the 2016 rotation.  There are plenty of good analysis pieces that focus on what Rich Hill did, and how he’ll fit into the A’s (such as this one from Dave Cameron).  I’d like to focus a bit on the historical precedent to a Rich Hill signing.  The A’s have a storied history of picking up veteran and/or flier starting pitchers to see if they can make something useful out of them.  Let’s take a walk down memory lane and see if we can see any sort of pattern, or find out what their success rate is like.  I’m only going to focus on Major League contract Free Agency signings, to keep the pool of possible transactions as applicable to Hill as possible.

1/28/06     Agreed to terms with RHP Esteban Loaiza on a three-year contract through 2008 with a club option for 2009, worth $21.4 million.

The 2005 A’s were pretty good; they finished 88-74 despite collapsing down the stretch.  Their rotation was pretty good too, with Zito, Haren, Harden, and Blanton all pitching rather well.  The team saw a need to upgrade over Kirk Saarloos, though, and add some veteran leadership.  They could also use depth in case Harden got hurt, as he was prone to do.  Loaiza was coming off a very solid season with the Nats, and was just two years removed from a career year with the 2003 White Sox, so the A’s bought in and gave him a three year deal.  He pitched reasonably well with the A’s in 2006 en route to an ALCS appearance, but the contract was not a good one overall.  He was inconsistent due to injury, though impressive when he did start.  Overall, he was a middling starter (154 IP, 4.19 FIP, 2.4 fWAR) in 2006, and continued to look mediocre in 2007 by the peripheral numbers.  After some injuries kept him on the shelf in 2007, in addition to a DUI arrest, the A’s waived him and the Dodgers mercifully took his contact off the books.  The A’s tumbled to a 76 win season, and 2006 ended up being Loaiza’s last productive season (Mexican league included).

01/26/10    Oakland Athletics signed free agent RHP Ben Sheets to a one-year contract through 2010 worth $10 million.

The 2009 A’s were a 75 win team trying to claw back out of a rebuilding process.  While youngsters Gio Gonzalez and Brett Anderson showed promise, and long time AAA lefty Dallas Braden looked like a decent bet to provide a backend starter, the A’s needed a proven frontline starter.  Sheets had an amazing 2004 season, but hadn’t pitched 200 innings since then, and missed all of 2009 with Tommy John recovery.  He dodged a long term contract that offseason due to being a Type A free agent, and the A’s signed him to a rather expensive pillow contract for 2010.  The results, again, were middling.  His strikeouts were down, his walks were up, and he had his worst Home Run rate since his rookie year, despite playing in the Oakland Coliseum.  He went down for the season in July with a torn flexor in his elbow, and despite pitching passably well in 2012, was basically never heard from again. The A’s finished exactly .500.

12/14/10    Oakland Athletics signed free agent RHP Brandon McCarthy to a one-year contract through 2011 worth $1 million.

McCarthy was a formerly great prospect with control problems that hindered his FIP since 2005.  He hadn’t posted an ERA or FIP below 4, and had never hit 2 fWAR.  He couldn’t stay on the mound, and missed all of 2010 while recovering from shoulder surgery.  2011 went phenomenally well for the journeyman, and very much so under-the-radar.  His new emphasis on the Cutter helped him more than halve his walk rate from 2008, and he lead the American League in FIP with 2.86, good for a 4.4 fWAR.  The A’s had him through 2012 due to still being arbitration eligible, and he followed it up with a solid season in 2012, posting a 3.76 FIP and winning 8 games before losing the rest of his season due to a line drive off his head.  The A’s made their miracle run to the playoffs that year, though they continued a proud tradition of losing to Justin Verlander in the playoffs.  He’s gone on to a productive, if inconsistent career that still should have 4-5 seasons left on it.

01/24/12    Oakland Athletics signed free agent RHP Bartolo Colon to a one-year contract through 2012 worth $2 million.

Colon came back to the game in 2011 after allegedly receiving stem cell treatment abroad to fix an arm wrecked by a long career.  He gave the Yankees 164 innings of a 3.83 FIP, and the A’s jumped on what looked to be a productive innings-eater for cheap.  Colon gave them exactly that, posting a nearly identical FIP but outperforming it in ERA, winning 10 games with a 3.43 ERA.  He tested positive for high levels of testosterone, though, in August, and pleaded no contest to the public.  The A’s shrugged off the blow to their PR, and gave him another one-year deal for 2013 with a modest $1 million raise.  He was phenomenal in 2013, going 18-6 with a 3.23 FIP and a 2.65 ERA, mostly due to a HR/9 of 0.66.  He started game 1 of the ALDS for the A’s before leaving in the offseason for a more lucrative contract with the Mets.

12/04/13    Oakland Athletics signed free agent LHP Scott Kazmir to a two-year contract through 2015 worth $22 million.

Emboldened by their recent success with bargain bins McCarthy and Colon, the A’s went big on Kazmir in free agency.  Kazmir was laughed out of baseball for completely losing his command around 2010, but reinvented himself in 1013 with the Indians.  His second half with the Tribe was dominant, pitching to a 2.42 FIP while looking untouchable at times.  More importantly, he was an unrestricted free agent in the last year of the Type A/Type B system, so the A’s picked him up without having to lose anything.  Kazmir pitched excellently in 2014, with a 3.35 FIP while providing veteran leadership for Sonny Gray, as the two became close friends as well as a powerful 1-2 punch for the A’s.  He continued to pitch well for the Struggling A’s this year before being traded to the Astros for two rising prospects.

So what does all this tell us about Rich Hill?  We had two big money signings in Loaiza and Sheets who didn’t work out, before the A’s hit on three in a row in McCarthy, Colon, and Kazmir.  As Eno Sarris points out, Rich Hill fits a mold the A’s have been targeting recently of guys with big curves.  I’ve already professed my love on this site for Chris Bassitt, and so my love for Rich Hill is no different.  I think it’s fair to be bullish on the A’s going after a lottery ticket Starter considering their history, and even if it doesn’t work out, Hill could provide valuable lefty relief that the A’s sorely lacked last season.  I was originally confused when the A’s said they wanted to add a starter considering the already crowded Spring Training rotation contest (Gray, Hahn, Graveman, Bassitt, Chavez, Brooks, Parker, Nolin, Griffin all look to compete), but Rich Hill is a perfect guy to get.  $6 million isn’t enough to regret the contract if it goes sour, and a lack of Qualifying Offer means he’s a potential front end starter with no strings attached.  That’s just a bit too much upside for a team like the A’s to ignore.

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