The writing was on the wall all offseason. Now Liam Hendriks’ signature will be drying on the dotted line -- if it hasn’t already.
Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports reported Monday that Hendriks and the Chicago White Sox have agreed to a three-year, $39 million deal with a club option for a fourth season in 2024. Both the fourth-year option and the buyout are $15 million so Hendriks is guaranteed $54 million either way.
The A’s weren’t expected to compete with clubs able to throw big bucks at All-Star closer. Given Oakland’s historically frugal spending habits, topping an average annual value of $18 million for a closer would be unheard of.
Now it’s time for southpaw Jake Diekman and right-hander J.B. Wendelken to seize their roles at the back of the A’s bullpen.
Diekman is the favorite and most logical choice to serve as the A’s closer entering 2021. He posted a minuscule 0.42 ERA and 0.938 WHIP in 2020, allowing just one run while striking out 31 in 21 1/3 innings of work. He only has seven saves in his career, most recently with the Texas Rangers in 2018, but was a super-reliable option for manager Bob Melvin in the eighth inning last season.
Diekman, who turns 34 on Jan. 21, relies on a sweeping slider and fastball that averaged 95.1 miles per hour last year, according to Fangraphs. Perhaps most importantly for the A’s, Diekman is due to make a reasonable $4 million this year and the team holds a $4 million club option for 2022.
Wendelken rose up the ranks last year with a four-pitch mix that featured a 94.5 mph fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. He recorded a 1.80 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 31 strikeouts in 25 innings pitched while becoming a trusted setup man. Wendelken will turn 27 in March and play out the final year of his rookie contract in 2021, so he’s expected to make $575,000 this season before entering three years of arbitration.
They’re both talented, but Diekman (5.1 BB/9) and Wendelken (4.0 BB/9) had walk rates last season that makes you think 2021 won’t be as smooth in the final innings. Hendriks, by comparison, only averaged 1.1 walks per nine innings last year.
Lou Trivino and Burch Smith are two other right-handed relievers who can expect to have increased roles this year without Hendriks. Considering Yusmeiro Petit and Joakim Soria still are free agents, there are a lot of question marks surrounding Oakland’s bullpen this year after it was a strength of the team in 2020.