OAKLAND -- The A’s announced today they’ve agreed to terms with reliever Sean Doolittle on a new five-year deal through the 2018 season that also includes club options for 2019 and 2020. It gives Doolittle security with the team he grew up watching through his age 32 season, while the A’s lock up a key left-handed bullpen piece who may well be closing games in Oakland before the contract is up.
"It means everything that the organization thinks of you like that, that they want to keep you around and they think you can be a part of teams here for years to come," Doolittle said. "And I think if you factor in the road that I took to get here, everything I went through to be able to put on this uniform, it’s really special to know that I’ll be part of this organization for a while."
Doolittle’s road to the majors -- the A’s drafted him in 2007 as a first baseman before injuries derailed his position-playing career and precipitated a transition to pitching -- has been well-documented, as has his immediate success upon reaching Oakland in 2012. In parts of three seasons, Doolittle is 7-6 with a 3.10 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 125 innings, and has become one of manager Bob Melvin’s primary set-up men.
The durability that he has shown, he takes good care of himself -- all the things that you look for in a guy that you do a long-term deal with, he does," Melvin said. "It’s a good deal for us, it’s a good deal for him. And to have a guy like that around for quite a while is good news for our clubhouse."
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Terms of the deal were not announced, but Doolittle and assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi, who negotiated the deal with Doolittle’s agent Jason Cook, both said the negotiation process was a smooth one. Zaidi said the A’s approached Doolittle’s camp to discuss a long-term deal shortly after reaching an agreement for the 2014 season during spring training; the sides wanted to wrap something up before leaving Arizona, but were held up briefly finalizing contract language.
With newly acquired Jim Johnson falling out of the closer job early this season, Melvin has been using a closer-by-committee approach that includes Doolittle and right-hander Luke Gregerson. But it’s a role that some see Doolittle as destined to eventually hold for himself. Doolittle today said he does hope to be closing games in Oakland someday, and Melvin reiterated that Doolittle has shown the ability to do so.
"We don’t necessarily know what inning he’s going to be pitching and that’s going to continue to be Bob’s department and decision," Zaidi said. "But we know he’s going to be getting important outs and in many cases the most important outs of the game for us, and that’s not always going to be in the ninth inning.
"I think we like having the flexibility and multiple guys to use in that role, and it’ll continue to be Bob’s decision. But it’s more about anybody that you think you can trust to get valuable outs at the end of the game is going to be worth the investment."
* After a 7-2 road trip, the A’s are back the Coliseum to face the Houston Astros for the first time this season. It was a favorable matchup for the A’s in 2013, when they went 15-4 against the Astros. Here’s the A’s lineup behind right-hander Sonny Gray:
And the Astros lineup behind right-hander Jarred Cosart:
* Coco Crisp, who returns to the leadoff spot tonight, is "as close to 100 percent as you’ll get," Melvin said. Crisp did not start either of the final two games of the road trip, but did enter each as a late-game replacement.
* Melvin said the A’s closer situation remains "status quo" -- that is, still by-committee with Jim Johnson in a "wild-card" role. It hasn’t been Melvin’s favorite subject to talk about, and he repeated today that there are no changes imminent.
"I think right now we’re fine with this," he said. "But there’s the potential for anything. I know at times it’s a little easier for the guys in the bullpen to know exactly (when they’ll be getting into games). But that’s not where we’re at right now."
Melvin said he thinks his late-game relievers are adaptable to playing different roles, and that Johnson has "been great as the wild card" -- which is a bit dubious, since it’s making it easier for the A’s to go without a set closer (and for Johnson to earn that job back).
* One more note -- no news on right-hander A.J. Griffin, who hasn’t begun his throwing program yet and is continuing to rehab from elbow soreness. Fortunately for the A’s, they haven’t experienced much of a drop-off with Jesse Chavez. Chavez has a 1.35 ERA in three starts.