New Angels pitcher Ryan Buchter walked into the team’s spring training clubhouse for the first time Tuesday and was hit with an onslaught of duties. It was photo day. The Angels needed him and his teammates on the field at Tempe Diablo Stadium for portraits demanded by different news outlets, then to sit with Topps Baseball Cards for an interview, and finally to clomp up the stairs to film promotional videos.
The loop took about 35 minutes to complete. It made most players antsy.
Yet it might have been one of the least stressful half-hours Buchter has spent in recent days.
Buchter is the father of a newborn and a toddler. He didn’t have a job this time last week.
“I’ve been immersed with not leaving the house,” he said.
After months holding out for a major league contract, the journeyman left-hander signed a minor league deal with the Angels on Monday. He will earn a base salary of $1.5 million if he wins a bullpen spot, said a person familiar with the contract but unable to comment publicly.
Buchter, who spent the last two seasons in the Oakland Athletics bullpen, will remain in limbo for the next several weeks while the Angels determine if he is worth carrying on their opening day roster. He is optimistic in spite of the uncertainty.
He received a vote of confidence from manager Joe Maddon too.
“He makes us better,” Maddon said. “He’s just a veteran pitcher with a tremendous history.”
Buchter, 33, has ranked among the best relievers over the last four seasons. His 2.87 ERA during that span ranks 25th among relief pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings since 2016.
The Athletics opted to not offer him a contract rather than go to arbitration. Buchter made $1.4 million last season, but left-handed relievers are less valuable in 2020 because all relievers must face three batters or finish an inning, eliminating the need for a left-hander who is particularly adept at retiring left-handed batters.
Buchter was primarily that sort of specialist with the Athletics, but over his five-year career has proven he’s tough on any hitter. Left-handers have batted .187 with a .596 on-base-plus-slugging percentage against him, while right-handers have batted .215 with a .701 OPS.
“I’ve been able to get righties out,” Buchter said.
Buchter would provide a different look out of the Angels bullpen, which hardly featured a left-hander last year. The Angels didn’t really need one after Cam Bedrosian improved his slider and emerged as a specialist against left-handed hitters despite throwing with his right hand.
Maddon wasn’t interested in adding a left-handed specialist when the Angels reported to spring training last week. He was more interested in the “neutral” pitcher, someone equally effective against right-handed and left-handed hitters.
Buchter is that guy, although right-handers batted at least .270 against him each of the last two seasons.
But Buchter views that as an aberration.
“I used to struggle with lefties because I used to face so many righties in the minor leagues,” said Buchter, who spent nine seasons in the minors before making his first MLB opening day roster in 2016. “I’d see a lefty and I’d end up walking him because I never saw one. … I think I’m better as a setup man and a full inning guy than just a lefty reliever anyway. I add some versatility to the bullpen and to the team.”
Outfielder Brian Goodwin did not participate in workouts Tuesday. His arbitration case was being heard. A decision on his salary — Goodwin asked for $2.2 million while Angels offered $1.85 million in his first year of arbitration eligibility — is expected within 48 hours. . . . Rather than use projected starters to pitch their two Cactus League openers on Saturday, the Angels will send non-roster invitees to the mound for the scheduled split-squad games. Right-hander Matt Ball will open the game at Tempe Diablo against the Kansas City Royals and Jake Thompson will start against the Chicago White Sox in Glendale, Ariz.