The Oakland A's signed relief pitcher Jake Diekman to a two-year contract on Tuesday, first reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN and later confirmed by the team. The deal also includes a club option for a third year. The total guarantee is $7.5 million, reports Passan.
The left-handed Diekman was acquired by the A's in a July trade and finished the 2019 season in Oakland, but this winter the team declined his $5.75 million option for 2020. That made him a free agent, but the two sides have now reunited with a new multi-year contract. He'll pitch at age 33 next season.
On the field, Diekman is a classic case of effectively wild. His 96 mph fastball is tough to square up and his slider generates lots of misses, all of which helps him rack up strikeouts at an enormous rate (career: 11.2 K/9, 28.2% rate). However, he often struggles to find the plate, leading to consistent trouble with walks (career: 5.0 BB/9, 12.5% rate).
That latter issue was on full display after his arrival in Oakland, as he allowed nearly one free pass every inning -- 19 total (16 BB, 3 HBP) in just 20⅓ frames. However, despite his shaky numbers, he still managed to get the job done by converting 13 holds without officially blowing any. He did contribute to a few blown leads that weren't charged to him directly, including one where he took the loss, but even at arguably the worst he's ever pitched in his career he still mostly held serve in a setup role.
Diekman, 2019 OAK: 4.43 ERA, 20⅓ ip, 21 Ks, 16 BB, 0 HR, 3.95 FIP, .322 xwOBA
Looking at his full season, including his time with the Royals, he converted 31 holds with only two blown, and also did an adequate job of stranding inherited runners -- a crucial skill for a reliever who is often called on mid-inning to help squash a rally. Only 10-of-39 scored, for a better-than-average 26% rate. (His career mark is 30%, around average.)
Diekman, 2019 MLB: 4.75 ERA, 41⅔ ip, 63 Ks, 23 BB, 3 HR, 3.36 FIP, .300 xwOBA
While it's easy to be pessimistic about the wildness, especially for a late-inning arm who often works with razor-thin margins of error, don't forget about the effective part. His tiny rate of 7.1 hits per nine innings was in line with his 7.6 career mark, and even in the Age Of The Dinger he still consistently kept the ball in the park just like he always has over the past decade.
One other important note is that Diekman has virtually no platoon splits, faring equally well against lefty and righty batters over his career. That's especially important now that MLB is adding a rule that requires relievers to face at least three batters if they don't finish the current inning. The LOOGY matchup specialist role will presumably drop in value in 2020, but that's not what Diekman is; he's just a reliever who happens to be lefty.
I'm not so sure about this move. Diekman did not inspire confidence last year in his time with Oakland, and declining his expensive option was a no-brainer. This new contract is at least a better value, but is he the pitcher the A's needed? And does he merit a multi-year commitment? I was ready to move on from him and figured the team had done just that, and this signing won't be popular among the Athletics Nation community.
However, speaking as a silver-linings guy, remember that the reliever volatility pendulum can always swing back the other way. He's got power stuff and he misses bats at a high rate, so there will always be upside for a big year at any time, even with all the walks. He's not the reliever I would have picked, but it's absolutely possible he can make good and be productive. At the least he's nearly guaranteed to be better than what we saw from him last summer in the small sample after his acquisition -- again, seriously, that was arguably the worst he's ever pitched when healthy.
Oakland's bullpen is beginning to take shape over the last 24 hours. On Monday, Blake Treinen and Ryan Buchter were non-tendered, forfeiting the team's control and making them free agents. Meanwhile, lefty T.J. McFarland officially signed for 2020 after being picked up off waivers last month. That gives the A's the following locks, pending any more additions they might make this winter:
Beyond that list, promising righty J.B. Wendelken will be out of minor league options and could be part of the picture, while elite starting prospect A.J. Puk worked in short relief last year in his first MLB experience. There's also always the chance that a fringe starter could wind up in the pen. (And, in theory, Trivino might not be a lock for the MLB squad since he still has options and is coming off a down year.)
As for Oakland's payroll, they now have seven players under contract for a total of around $51 million: DH Khris Davis, OF Stephen Piscotty, RHP Mike Fiers, RHP Soria, RHP Petit, LHP McFarland, and LHP Diekman. Add in the projected salaries of the seven arbitration players who were tendered on Monday, and the payroll jumps to around $86 million for 14 players (we don't yet know Diekman's breakdown, but for now let's assume it's around $3m/$4m with a $500K option buyout). Factor in minimum salaries for the rest of the 26-man roster, and the total stands at around $94 million, before considering any further offseason moves.