TODAY: Neal and Rios each elected free agency rather than accept the outright assignment, as per MILB.com’s official transactions page.
OCTOBER 4: The A’s cleared some space off their 40-man roster, announcing today that right-handers Austin Pruitt, Zach Neal, and Yacksel Rios, and left-hander Richard Lovelady were all outrighted to Triple-A after clearing waivers. There hadn’t been any public knowledge that the quartet had been designated for assignment, yet all four passed through the waiver wire and (for now) will remain in Oakland’s organization.
Pruitt, Neal, Rios have each have the option of electing free agency rather than accepting the assignment to Triple-A, since they’ve previously been outrighted during their careers. Pruitt and Rios are both eligible for salary arbitration this winter and will probably be non-tendered, so they’re likely to just hit the open market now rather than wait for an official release.
Neal signed a minor league contract with the A’s in April, and posted a 6.67 ERA over 27 innings at the big league level. This marked Neal’s first MLB action since he pitched with the Dodgers in 2018, as Neal had in the interim pitched three seasons in Japan and then with the Rockies’ Triple-A club in 2022 without receiving a call up to Colorado’s active roster.
Pruitt, Rios, and Lovelady all finished the season on the injured list. Pruitt had seen the most action (48 1/3 innings in 38 appearances) before a right forearm strain ultimately ended his season on August 17. It doesn’t appear as though Pruitt’s injury is a long-term issue, as he had started a throwing program and had advanced to throwing live batting practices in September.
That’s some good news for a pitcher who has already had one major injury setback in his career, as Pruitt missed all of the 2020 season and half of the 2021 season recovering from a hairline fracture in his right elbow. Pruitt posted a 4.83 ERA over 207 MLB innings with the Rays, Astros, and Marlins from 2017-21 before catching on with the A’s on minor league deals in each of the last two seasons. Pruitt had a 4.23 ERA in 55 1/3 frames for Oakland in 2022 and then a 2.98 ERA this past season, giving him some solid bottom-line results even if his advanced metrics (4.32 SIERA in 2022-23) indicated that he benefited from some good fortune.
The Athletics acquired Rios in a June trade with the Braves, and after the righty’s contract was selected from Triple-A, he made only three appearances before heading to the 15-day (and then shortly thereafter the 60-day) injured list. Rios has Raynaud’s Syndrome, and was feeling numbness in two fingers caused by a reduction in blood flow to his hands. A surgery in July removed an axillary branch aneurysm from Rios’ shoulder, which should help him ultimately heal up even if it meant the end of his 2023 season.
Rios is a veteran of six Major League seasons, with a 6.32 ERA over 98 1/3 career innings with five different teams. He didn’t pitch in the majors in 2022 while playing in the White Sox organization, and inked a minors deal with Atlanta last winter.
Lovelady also came to the A’s from the Braves, as Oakland selected him off waivers in April. Lovelady had a 4.63 ERA in 23 1/3 relief innings for the Athletics before being shut down after suffering a pronator strain in his throwing forearm in July. This new injury comes in the wake of a 2021 Tommy John surgery that caused Lovelady to miss the entire 2022 season while rehabbing. The southpaw had a 5.62 ERA in 41 2/3 innings over parts of the 2019-21 seasons with the Royals, and Kansas City traded him to the Braves a couple of weeks before Oakland’s waiver claim.