The A’s bullpen had a league-best collective 2.72 ERA in 2020. That had them in the top three of that category, which included the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays, the two teams who made it to the World Series.
It seems likely AL Reliever of the Year Liam Hendriks will not be returning to the A’s, as he is being heavily pursued in free agency. As things stand now, Jake Diekman would be the main internal candidate to take over the closer role in 2021.
“I think we’re open to whatever the options end up being and Jake [Diekman] certainly pitched well enough last year to pitch at the end of the game if need be,” A’s general manager David Forst said on Wednesday. “I’d have to say he’s an option, but beyond that, I think that conversation will go into February and March with [manager] Bob Melvin and [pitching coach] Scott Emerson and figure out what’s realistic to do.”
“It’s an area obviously since the end of the year that we’re going to have to address with a number of guys leaving to free agency,” Forst added. “There are a lot of guys out there, but our approach historically has been to sort of target the guys we evaluate.”
If Hendriks leaves and Diekman is the guy for the job, his 2020 numbers certainly make him well qualified. The A's lefty only allowed one earned run, good for a 0.42 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 21 1/3 innings.
Besides Diekman, the A’s still have other internal options if need be.
“We do have some guys returning that we feel good about in Diekman and Lou Trivino, and J.B. Wendelken and expecting Burch [Smith] to be healthy,” Forst said.
Smith returns to the A’s on a one-year contract. He missed a chunk of the 2020 season due to a forearm strain. However, before that, he made an impact with a 2.25 ERA, 0.67 WHIP and 13 strikeouts in 12 innings.
There's still a chance the A's acquire another bullpen arm who could eventually step into the closer's role, as Forst added the A’s are having internal and external discussions about other possibilities as well.