Tantalizing left-hander A.J. Puk is on track to to return from shoulder surgery and take his place in the A’s 2021 starting rotation, per MLB.com’s Martín Gallegos (via Twitter). GM David Forst places Puk alongside Frankie Montas, Jesus Luzardo, Sean Manaea, and Chris Bassitt in their projected rotation.
At the tail end of games, however, the A’s have a hole to fill. When Blake Treinen left in free agency, the A’s backfilled the closer role with Liam Hendriks. Now that Hendriks appears to be following Treinen out the door, the A’s again have a decision to make. Hendriks had already eased into the role with 25 saves in 2019 when he took over, however.
Only two players besides Hendriks recorded a save in 2020, however: Joakim Soria had two and Burch Smith had one. Soria is also a free agent, and Smith is a soon-to-be 31-year-old looking to appear in back-to-back seasons for the same team for the first time in his career. But the A’s aren’t totally bereft of candidates for high-leverage opportunities.
Forst put Jake Diekman at the top of the list, writes Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. Diekman bounced around from Philadelphia to Texas to Arizona and Kansas City before landing in Oakland a few days before the 2019 trade deadline. He’s been a viable and oft-used bullpen arm throughout his nine-year career, but he’s never been regularly called upon to finish games. Diekman has seven career saves.
Diekman reached new heights in 2020 with a 0.42 ERA/2.72 FIP across 21 appearances totaling 21 1/3 innings. The 33-year-old has also notched 141 holds throughout his career, including 13 in 2020.