Reliever Santiago Casilla repeatedly thanked the A’s for the opportunity they provided by signing him to a two-year contract that became official Friday.
The A’s were only too happy to welcome him back.
Casilla returns to Oakland, where he made his major-league debut in 2004, after spending the past seven seasons in the Giants’ bullpen, including most of the last three as their closer.
The Giants signed closer Mark Melancon last month and chose not to bring back the 36-year-old Casilla, whose final year in San Francisco was blemished by nine blown saves that cost him the ninth-inning job late in the season.
“As we got through the offseason, I think we felt like he was being overlooked a little bit, just because of some of the narratives surrounding his departure from the Giants,” A’s general manager David Forst said on a conference call Friday.
“Look, I wasn’t there, I don’t know exactly what went on. But it seems like a few blown saves towards the end of the year kind of marred what was otherwise a fantastic season.”
Casilla had a career-best 10.1 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate last season and allowed just 50 hits in 58 innings. But his high-profile letdowns in the ninth inning piled up and he was removed as closer after blowing three saves in a six-outing stretch in mid-September.
One of four Giants relievers active for all three World Series teams from 2010-14, Casilla heard fans boo him late last season and was memorably not used in Game 4 of the National League Division Series in which the Giants blew a late three-run lead to the Cubs.
Casilla said Friday he has put his Giants tenure in the past.
“It’s an old saying that it’s always good to return home,” Casilla said on a conference call through interpreter Manolo Hernandez Douen. “And I’m very happy to get this new opportunity with the Athletics.”
Oakland already has several relievers with closing experience – including Ryan Madson, who handled the ninth inning most of last season – and Forst said bullpen roles will sort themselves out in spring training.
Casilla made it clear he is open to any role. He said he received an offer from Milwaukee to potentially close but opted to stay in the Bay Area and rejoin the A’s. He also said the Giants did not extend an offer to bring him back.
“When you look at the peripheral numbers, stuff, command and ultimately the strikeouts and the hits, there was no difference between his 2015 and ’16, and he was considered one of the better closers in the game after 2015,” Forst said. “This felt like a really good opportunity to bring an accomplished pitcher into the bullpen.”
Et cetera – To clear a 40-man roster spot for Casilla, the A’s designated outfielder Brett Eibner for assignment.
The A’s also announced they have agreed to terms with left-hander Ross Detwiler and outfielder Alejandro De Aza on minor-league contracts.