The Oakland Athletics have some big news today:
The #Athletics agree to terms with Sean Doolittle on a new 5-year contract. Contract runs through ’18, includes club options for ’19, ’20.— Oakland Athletics (@Athletics) April 18, 2014
Financial terms have not yet been reported, but we'll pass them along as soon as we know. If I had to guess, I'd put it at something like $12.5 million over five years with a total package of $26 million if both options are picked up. NOTE: THAT IS MY SPECULATION. If you're like me, your first thought is how a five-year deal could only reach through 2018. It's possible that both sides are just horrible at arithmetic, but here's your more likely answer:
Calling it a five-year contract presumably means that it includes a 2014 raise, because "through 2018" is only four years.— Jason Wojciechowski (@jlwoj) April 18, 2014
This move contains certain elements that are surprising, and certain ones that aren't. It is no shock to see Billy Beane lock up a player who he sees as a key contributor and a good long-term investment to give the team cost certainty (and cost control) during his arbitration years. It's also not surprising to see the player concede two years of free agency at the end of the deal in the form of team options.
However, this is the first time I can remember Billy locking up a young reliever. He loves to ink his young starting pitchers before they get expensive, but neither Huston Street nor Andrew Bailey ever received this kind of deal in Oakland. Considering that they each won Rookie of the Year awards and were racking up saves at this point in their careers, and that Bailey was an All-Star in his first two seasons, it's difficult to argue that Doolittle is better than those guys were. Perhaps Beane has just changed his view on the value of relief pitching, which would make sense after we saw him drop nearly $16 million on Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson this winter.
Whatever Doolittle makes on this deal, it will be lower than the market price for a top set-up man. And if he ends up becoming the closer at some point during this contract, then he'll look like an even bigger bargain. Given the aforementioned novelty of Beane locking up a reliever long-term, it seems likely that he views Doolittle as a guy who will close at some point in the next few years; setting his price now means that his salary can't get inflated by saves in the arbitration process like Johnson's was.
Doolittle is currently 27 years old, so he's now locked up through age 31. The option years will be for ages 32 and 33. He's 1-for-2 in save opportunities this year as part of the closer-by-committee after serving up a game-tying homer to Mike Trout in the ninth inning on Tuesday. He was drafted as a first baseman in 2007, but converted to pitching and debuted in the Majors in 2012. For his career, he has a 3.10 ERA (123 ERA+) in 122 games (125 innings). He's struck out 129 batters against just 24 walks and has allowed only nine home runs, so his FIP (2.56) suggests that he could get even better. Now that he's developing secondary pitches to complement his plus fastball, reality could start to catch up with those fielding-independent numbers. Doolittle has also appeared in seven postseason games and struck out 11 batters in seven innings while posting a 3.86 ERA.