A's skipper Bob Melvin joined MLB Network’s High Heat with Christoper Russo on Wednesday morning and offered some interesting insight to Oakland’s bullpen situation come 2021.
“We have a number of guys coming back, but [relievers] are an area we will target,” Melvin said. “We are going to lose some guys out of the bullpen, so guys are going to have to step up.”
For a relief corps that led the American League in WAR last year (3.7), that's no easy feat. The A’s are likely to lose established closer Liam Hendriks, as the free agent has reportedly drawn plenty of interest from other organizations. Joakim Soria and T.J. McFarland could also be on the move, as well as long-time middle-inning reliever Yusmeiro Petit, who cemented himself as one of the most reliable relief options for the club over the last few seasons.
Hendriks alone will be hard to replace. The 2019 All-Star posted a 1.78 ERA and an 0.62 WHIP through 24 games in 2020, recording 14 saves while posting a 13.1 strikeouts-per-nine ratio.
General manager David Forst recently pegged left-hander Jake Diekman as the team’s leading internal candidate in replacing Hendriks, and for good reason. The southpaw stifled his opponents last season, holding a 0.42 ERA through 21 1/3 innings while limiting hitters to a .114 average and .253 on-base percentage.
“I think we’re open to whatever the options end up being and Jake certainly pitched well enough last year to pitch at the end of the game if need be,” Forst said during a video call with reporters earlier in the month.
Oakland is still likely to explore the market, which is rich in alluring relief options like Archie Bradley, Kirby Yates and Brad Hand. However, based on the club’s trending history, the A’s are likely to target smaller signings and more affordable players.
Still, Melvin remains optimistic that his remaining arms can handle the job. The A's will retain Lou Trivino and J.B. Wendelken, two top performers in 2020. Jordan Weems and Burch Smith, along with prospects Daulton Jefferies, Grant Holmes and James Kaprielian also will compete for spots next season.
“I like our core," Melvin said. "We’re bringing back a bunch of young players we still control.
"We're going to have to make some tweaks, it's not unlike any offseason for us," he added. "But we still have our core guys and I feel good about our team going into next year."