The Oakland Athletics are always doing things out of the ordinary. Friday they did something that is seemingly becoming the norm. The club announced that they had extended the contract of LHP Sean Doolittle for the foreseeable future. Recently quite a few teams have been locking down their young talent to long term contract extensions that takes them through their arbitration years and often into the player’s first years of free agency, which is exactly what they A’s did. The A’s are known around the league for doing the opposite, just letting players go once they hit free-agency and not paying them much prior to that. While the financial details of Doolittle’s new contract have not yet been disclosed, the length of the contract was.
The A’s and Doolittle, 27, agreed to a five-year deal that takes the southpaw through his three arbitration years and the 2018 season. The deal includes club options for 2019 and 2020 which, if utilized by the A’s, will take the lefty reliever through his first two years of free agency.
Doolittle, who only three years ago was a top prospect at first base, is now one of the best relief pitchers in the league. He transitioned to a pitcher in 2011, was called up to the majors in 2012 and as of now has only 1.122 years of MLB service time. In that little time he’s proven to be a very good and versatile late innings pitcher who can come in at any time, in any situation and get the needed outs. Currently, the A’s are going on a “closer by committee” strategy since RHP Jim Johnson was demoted from the role but manager Bob Melvin has said that Doolittle and RHP Luke Gregerson are his top choices for the ninth inning. However the way the new contract is structured suggests that Doolittle will be accumulating saves in the near future. If Doolittle finishes this season with Super Two eligibility, the incentives in the contract will kick in and they are based on the number of games finished. Also, if he appears in a combined 100 games between 2018 and 2019, the club option for 2020 changes from just a club option to a mutual option. That is an awful lot of incentive right there.
There is every reason in the world to believe that Doolittle can accomplish those feats. The option is not based upon the number of innings pitched but the number of games he appears in and number of games he finished. Since MLB closers usually appear in consecutive games, obviously finishing them, this is another hint that they are grooming him to solely take over the role.
The funny thing is that Doolittle is pretty much the opposite of your typical closer. He’s a lefty while most often closers are right-handed. His fastball is not overwhelming as it tops out at 90 mph and he’s only recently added a slider and a change up to his repertoire. Still the numbers do not lie. In 2012, his first year in the majors, Doolittle appeared in 44 games and accumulated 60 strikeouts and in 2013 he appeared in 70 games adding 60 more strikeouts to his resume all while maintaining a career ERA of 3.10. He’s proven that he can handle pressure situations while getting guys out and when it comes down to it those are the only things you really need in a closer. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t throw 100 mph or have Mariano Rivera‘s signature, devastating cutter. He has the mentality and ability to get things done and has proven himself to be durable having made 122 appearances and pitched 125 total innings. He is tied with Kansas City Royals’ pitcher, Greg Holland, for most innings pitched by a reliever in the American League during that time
A’s assistant general manager/director of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi talked to the press about Doolittle on Friday saying,
“Sean’s been in the organization a long time, obviously, and is a guy we’ve gotten to know on a personal level, and we just have a ton of faith in the type of person he is off the field and on the field. I think the resilience he’s shown in his career, having transitioned from being a position player to pitcher, that’s shown us a lot. And then we’ve seen what everyone else has seen of him the last two years. He’s been one of the best relievers and setup men in all of baseball. I think every team would want to be able to have that guy around as long as possible.”
Doolittle is also a life long A’s fan. His father was in the army and Doolittle spent his most impressionable years at the army base in Merced, CA. His father would take him and his little brother Ryan, who also pitches for the A’s organization, to games at the Coliseum.
“This was my first exposure to baseball of any kind, and for it to come full circle was cool enough, and now to know I have a little security and will be wearing the green and gold for several years is exciting. There are still plenty times I can’t believe I actually did what I did. The way things worked out, it just makes everything that much better. I don’t take a single minute I have up here for granted. I try to work my butt off and have as much fun with everything as I can and take it all in.”