The Athletics have declined their 2022 option on left-hander Jake Diekman, per an announcement from the MLBPA that lists Diekman as an official free agent. The A’s held a $4MM team option on Diekman but will instead pay him a $750K buyout. Opting against a net $3.25MM price on Diekman only further adds to the expectation that the A’s will pare back their payroll this winter.
Set to turn 35 in January, Diekman wasn’t as sharp in 2021 as he was in 2020, when he notched a sub-1.00 ERA through 20 innings in the shortened season. However, he still pitched to a respectable 3.86 ERA with a huge 31.9% strikeout rate and a heater that averaged 95.6 mph (up from last year’s 95.3 mph). Diekman walked an ugly 13% of his opponents in 2021, but that level of shaky command is nothing new for the lefty. He’s walked 12.7% of his career opponents, and the A’s (like every other team that acquires Diekman) knew what they were getting when they signed Diekman to a two-year, $7MM deal in the 2019-20 offseason.
It’d have been more surprising to see Diekman bought out had the Athletics not already stunningly allowed longtime manager Bob Melvin depart to manage the Padres — a move largely believed to be financially motivated. Spending $3.25MM on a 36-year-old reliever, even a pretty good one, wasn’t in the cards for a club looking to scale back its expenditures.
That said, Diekman is a hard-throwing lefty who has posted a combined 2.96 ERA and a 32.9% strikeout rate across the past two seasons out of the Oakland bullpen. He averaged 1.48 home runs per nine innings this year, a rather alarming uptick from the career 0.55 mark he carried into 2021, but Diekman still throws hard and racks up strikeouts in droves. He was also harder on righties than on lefties this season — a trend throughout his career — which should reduce any potential platoon concerns.
Another multi-year deal can’t be ruled out in free agency, although given Diekman’s age and this year’s home run surge, a one-year pact still could be more likely. Still, it’s a thin crop of left-handed relievers this winter, so he ought to find another club willing to guarantee him a few million dollars on a one-year pact, at the least. It’s possible that he comes out ahead in the ordeal, topping a $3.25MM guarantee, although one would imagine that the A’s looked around for potential trade matches before simply declining the option.