December 21: The A’s made it official today, announcing the signing.
December 20: The A’s are in agreement with starter Drew Rucinski, pending a physical. It’s reportedly a one-year, $3MM guarantee for the Paragon Sports International client. The deal also contains a $5MM club option for the 2024 season.
Rucinski returns to the U.S. after four seasons in South Korea. The 6’2″ righty kicked around the majors in the middle of the last decade as a swing option. While Rucinski worked as a starter in the minors, he came out of the bullpen for six of seven appearances with the Angels in 2014-15. Rucisnki spent the next year in Triple-A with the Cubs organization before spending two years as a depth reliever. He pitched twice for the Twins in 2017 and logged 35 1/3 innings over 32 relief appearances for the Marlins the next season.
That marked a career-high workload for the Ohio State product, and he made the jump to the Korea Baseball Organization the next offseason. Rucinski landed with the NC Dinos, kicking off a four-year run in which he’d work as a durable innings eater. The righty started 30-plus games in all four of his KBO seasons, pitching at least 177 1/3 innings in each year. Rucinski was consistent and very effective, posting an ERA between 2.97 and 3.17 in every season.
Rucinski only struck out 16.8% of his opponents during his debut season, but he topped a 20% strikeout rate in each of the next three years. Rucinski topped out at a 24.3% strikeout percentage in 2022, while this year’s 2.97 ERA over 193 2/3 innings marked his lowest with the Dinos. He threw plenty of strikes, walking just 4.3% of batters faced this year. Rucinski also induced grounders on two-thirds of batted balls in each of the last three years, with those dominant numbers earning him another MLB look.
MLBTR placed Rucinski 50th on this offseason’s top free agent list. His one-year pact falls short of MLBTR’s projected two-year, $9MM guarantee. Pitchers like Chris Flexen and Merrill Kelly secured two-year contracts coming over from the KBO, but Rucinski’s age apparently limited him to one year. He’ll turn 34 next week, while Flexen and Kelly each returned to the U.S. before their 31st birthday.
It’s a low-cost flier for the A’s, whose spacious home park figures to play well for a pitch-to-contact arm of Rucinski’s ilk. Cole Irvin and Paul Blackburn look to have secured season-opening rotation spots alongside Rucinski, while players like James Kaprielian, Ken Waldichuk, Adam Oller and Adrián Martínez could battle for spots at the back end. Oakland GM David Forst and his staff could still look to augment that group, even in another rebuilding season.
The A’s still have just $54MM in projected 2023 payroll, per Roster Resource. They’ve added Jace Peterson and Aledmys Díaz on lower-cost two-year deals, while Trevor May, Rucinski and Manny Piña (in the Sean Murphy trade) have been brought aboard with one-year commitments.