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MLB free agency: Athletics interested in Tony Watson, Brian Duensing

Oakland reportedly has interest in a pair of veteran lefty relievers.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Chicago Cubs Photo by Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Athletics have interest in free-agent left-handed relievers Tony Watson and Brian Duensing, per John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Daniel Coulombe is the only lefty reliever on Oakland’s 40-man roster (and along with starter Sean Manaea, one of just two left-handers pitchers overall among that group). Thus, a left-handed bullpen arm is arguably the Athletics’ biggest need as they approach spring training.

Watson, 32, has long been considered one of the league’s most reliable lefty relievers, though he had one of his most inconsistent seasons to date in 2017, posting a 3.38 ERA and a career-worst 1.38 WHIP over 71 appearances split between the Pirates and Dodgers. For what it’s worth, he did seem to rebound after being traded to Los Angeles on July 31, posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.05 WHIP with 18 strikeouts and six walks over 20 innings. After allowing two runs in two appearances (one inning) in the NLDS, Watson didn’t allow any earned runs through nine appearances (six innings) in the NLCS and World Series.

Duensing enjoyed a career-best season at age 34 for the Cubs in 2017, posting a 2.74 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 68 games. He struck out a career-high 8.81 batters per nine innings while walking just 2.6 per nine.

Both relievers figured to be rather highly sought-after this offseason, but their markets evidently have not materialized as hoped. If Duensing is seeking a multi-year deal heading into his age 35 season, as Shea reported, that could be a potential reason that he’s still on the market roughly one month before spring training begins.

The Athletics figure to be slightly more competitive in 2018, as second-half breakout stars Matt Olson and Matt Chapman are expected to be part of this year’s Opening Day lineup. With that said, Oakland’s front office has developed a habit of acquiring high-profile relievers and then quickly flipping them for prospects in recent years. Mark Rzepczynski and Tyler Clippard were both acquired in offseason trades for veteran big-leaguers and then dealt for prospects at the next trade deadline. Ryan Madson signed a three-year, $22 million contract with the Athletics in December 2015 but was dealt to the Nationals in July 2017 for reliever Blake Treinen and two prospects. While either Watson or Duensing would provide significant upgrades to Oakland’s bullpen, their greatest value to the A’s may be as trade chips in a lengthy retooling process that figures to last until the organization can finalize plans for a new stadium.