With a group that includes the likes of Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle, the Oakland Athletics bullpen were a largely young and gifted bunch in 2012. On the other hand, with just a pair of players in the bullpen above 31 years of age, experience is something that the group has yet to obtain.
According to Susan Sussler of the San Francisco Chronicle, the team is looking to add just that to its relief corps, and is hoping that former MLB vet Hideki Okajima is the answer.
Okajima did not pitch on a MLB mound in 2012, but the 37-year old lefty had a pair of successful years with the Boston Red Sox in 2007 and 2008, including an All-Star appearance in the former, before seeing his numbers diminish to the point that he was designated for assignment in 2011.
A failed physical mean that he had to go back to Japan to take a one-year contract with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the NPB, but a successful campaign there – 47.2 IP, 0.98 ERA, 6.18 K/BB has caught the eyes of the Athletics brass, and they’re hoping a no-risk deal to bring Okajima stateside could see him regain some of the form that made him a significant contributor to the World Series run by the Boston Red Sox back in 2007.
To do that, the Japanese veteran will have to regain some of the good control that he had during those years. While he was never an elite strikeout artist during his time with the Red Sox, the most evident signs of his decline came when his walk rate jumped to 3.91 BB/9 in 2010, compared to a number that hovered around three in the years prior.
Should the Athletics end up signing Okajima, there will be questions about how he can face the jump in the level of competition in the twilight of his career. That said, that he was able to go through a full season of pro ball in Japan with an excellent walk rate (1.1 BB/9) is reason to hope that he can translate that to the Coliseum without it getting out of hand, and give the Athletics a bargain-bin veteran with surplus value, along a dash of championship experience.