The Athletics have signed left-handed reliever Jake Diekman to a two-year deal worth $7.5 million guaranteed, as ESPN’s Jeff Passan first reported Tuesday:
Jake Diekman's guarantee on his two-year deal with Oakland will be $7.5 million.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 3, 2019
While the free-agent market hasn’t exactly been booming so far, lefty relievers (along with catchers) have been a valuable commodity during the first month or so of the offseason. Will Smith signed a three-year, $40 million deal with the Braves in early November, while Drew Pomeranz agreed to a four-year, $34 million contract with the Padres last week (if you’re keeping track, Diekman is the first lefty reliever who didn’t pitch for the 2019 Giants to sign a major-league contract this offseason). While Diekman’s deal isn’t nearly as expensive as those that Smith and Pomeranz received, it’s another sign that teams are willing to invest resources in veteran relievers despite the fact that not too many of them have had success after signing multi-year deals in recent seasons.
On the surface, the 32-year-old Diekman’s 2019 numbers don’t look too great (and for that reason, it’s somewhat surprising to see him receive a guaranteed deal this early in the offseason). Over 76 appearances between the Royals and Athletics, Diekman posted a 4.65 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP. But his struggles were largely limited to a disastrous June in which he allowed opposing hitters to post a .973 OPS against him in 13 appearances. Otherwise, he didn’t allow an opposing OPS above .700 in any month of the season, and the only three home runs he allowed on the season were in June — a pretty amazing accomplishment considering how the juiced ball gave most pitchers fits in 2019. Diekman also struck out 12.2 batters per nine innings, his highest total since 2014. He did walk 5.7 hitters per nine, though that wasn’t too much of a surprise for a pitcher who has averaged 5.0 walks per nine throughout his eight-year career, and it’s essentially something teams have been willing to live with in order to have a lefty who has a penchant for the strikeout and misses bats.