The Oakland A’s announced on February 12th that they have traded minor league 3B Sheldon Neuse and minor league RHP Gus Varland to the Los Angeles Dodgers for LHP Adam Kolarek and minor league OF Cody Thomas.
Kolarek, 32, had a 0.95 ERA, 3.14 FIP and .250 xwOBA against in 19 innings pitched in 2019 and has a 3.32 ERA, 3.87 FIP and .281 xwOBA against in 116.2 career innings. The former Dodger joins an A’s bullpen searching for reinforcements after an offseason that has seen the departures of Liam Hendriks and Joakim Soria, and potentially Yusmeiro Petit as well. The A’s bullpen is also one lacking lefties, as Jake Diekman is the only other southpaw in the Oakland bullpen with more than 50 career innings pitched. What’s interesting is that Kolarek and Diekman are near polar opposites, with the hand they throw with being close to their only similarity. While Diekman is a hard-throwing strikeout pitcher with control issues, Kolarek’s fastball averages 91 MPH and the lefty has never had a season with a strikeout rate above 20%, but he also has never walked more than 7% of the batters he faced, save for his 2017 season in which he only threw 8.1 innings. Kolarek also excels at limiting home runs thanks to his high groundball rate. While Kolarek has a 0.77 career HR/9, a rather pedestrian 12.7% of his fly balls allowed have turned into homers. Instead of limiting how many fly balls turn into home runs, Kolarek simply limits the amount of fly balls he gives up in total. Since his major league debut, Kolarek generates groundballs at a 62.7% clip, the seventh-highest rate among qualified relievers since 2017. By adding Kolarek, not only do the A’s get one of the better relievers in baseball, it also gives the A’s more flexibility when it comes to how they manage their bullpen. Dave Forst has stated that they were wary of slotting Diekman into the closer role due to how they wanted to approach lefty/righty matchups in the 7th and 8th innings of games. With Kolarek, they no longer have to stress as much about those matchups.
For those that follow college football closely, the name Cody Thomas might sound familiar. That’s because he was the former quarterback for the Oaklahoma Sooners. This commitment to football could explain his issues with strikeouts in the minors, as he hadn’t fully devoted his time to baseball until being drafted in 2016. As you might expect from someone who was able to play quarterback for a major college football program, Thomas is an extremely gifted athlete. Standing at 6’4”, 211 pounds, Thomas has both immense raw power and plus speed, to go along with good fielding and a left-handed bat. He’s a prospect with immense upside, having hit 23 homers and posting a .207 ISO in his first season at AA in 2019, though he also carries some risk with a strikeout rate that has never dipped below 27% over the course of a full season. The 26 year old is behind the development curve for most prospects, but if he can ever catch up to the curve he could be an above average major leaguer thanks to his physical tools.
Going to the Dodgers is another former Sooner, Sheldon Neuse. After getting a cup of coffee in the majors at the end of the 2019 season at second base, the 26 year old spent all of 2020 at the A’s alternate site, never getting into actual game action. Despite this, Neuse is well regarded by most due to his potential to hit for plus power, strong arm and ability to play multiple positions. Drafted as a third baseman, Neuse has experience at second base as well as a handful of innings at shortstop and left field. With Kiké Hernandez signing with the Boston Red Sox, it’s possible that Neuse fills his role for the Dodgers
Prior to having Tommy John surgery, Gus Varland was a stocky 6’1” 200-pound righty with a fastball that sat 92-94 and a slider and curveball with good bite. His fastball and slider have the potential to be plus, while his curveball and command appear to be average. The 24 year-old has only thrown 26.1 innings since 2019, so how he returns from Tommy John will have a massive impact on his future.