Entering the season, the A's bullpen was supposed to be a strength of the team. Instead, through 19 games, it has been a glaring weakness.
Oakland's 'pen blew a 7-3 lead Sunday afternoon at Texas, allowing five earned runs in just two innings, as the Rangers rallied for a stunning 8-7 victory. It was the A's third loss of the season when leading after seven innings. To put that in perspective, Oakland only lost two such games all of last year.
The root of the problem has been a pair of high-paid veteran relievers: Joakim Soria and Fernando Rodney. Soria took the loss Sunday, his second of the season, after allowing four earned runs while recording just a single out.
"That's Soria's job to do it," A's manager Bob Melvin told reporters after the game. "He's one of our main guys. He just had a rough day."
Soria was the A's biggest free agent signing of the offseason. The 34-year-old right-hander agreed to a two-year contract worth $15 million. In his first nine appearances, he has allowed nine earned runs in just 7 1/3 innings for an ERA of 11.05.
Rodney, 42, has been equally ineffective, surrendering eight earned runs in six innings, translating to a 12.00 ERA. Oakland elected to pick up his $5.25 million option this season rather than buy out his contract for $250K.
Soria will earn $6.5 million this season, which means the A's are spending $11.75 million on the two veteran setup men. That's a significant amount of money, particularly for a franchise like the A's, which must maximize every dollar it spends.
Oakland was counting on both Soria and Rodney to be solid late-inning contributors. That vision has not yet come to fruition. Overall, the A's bullpen has an ERA of 4.39, more than a full run higher than last season's 3.37 mark.
Outside of Soria and Rodney, most of Oakland's relievers have performed well. The rest of the 'pen has an ERA of 2.72. Blake Treinen, Lou Trivino, and Liam Hendriks have all been outstanding, while Yusmeiro Petit and J.B. Wendelken have been mostly reliable.
The A's are probably deep enough to overcome an ineffective Rodney, but the same cannot be said for Soria. Melvin made it clear he will not overwork Treinen and Trivino, which means he will continue to turn to Soria in the late innings.
The A's just have to hope the two-time All-Star returns to form. And soon.