OAKLAND, Calif. — In three short years, Sean Doolittle transformed himself from a top first base prospect into a shut-down reliever.
The Oakland Athletics are rewarding him for it, giving the left-hander a five-year contract Friday for making the improbable switch. The deal contains a pair of club options that could extend the agreement through the 2020 season.
"It means everything that the organization thinks of you like that, that they want to keep you around and they think you can be part of teams here for years to come," said Doolittle, a regular in the second deck at A’s games as a boy with his brother. "If you factor in the road I took to get here and everything I went through to be able to put on this uniform, it’s really special to know I’ll be part of this organization for a while."
Oakland announced the contract ahead of a home weekend series against the Houston Astros. Doolittle took his physical Thursday and should sign the agreement as soon as Monday. His 2020 option becomes mutual if he has a combined 100 games finished between 2018 and 2019.
The 27-year-old left-hander has been a reliable member of Oakland’s talented bullpen since converting from first base late in the 2011 season. He appreciates his new job security — and still thinks about the path he took to get to this point.
"It’s crazy," he said. "There are still plenty of times I can’t believe I actually did that. 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."
He is 7-6 with a 3.10 ERA and four saves in 122 relief appearances, allowing 100 hits with 129 strikeouts in 125 innings. He is 0-0 with a 3.12 ERA and one save in eight appearances over 8 2-3 innings so far this year, his third big league season.
"He’s a guy we’ve gotten to know on a personal level and we have a ton of faith in the person he is on the field and off the field," said Farhan Zaidi, A’s assistant general manager and director of baseball operations. "Having to transition from being a position player to a pitcher, that’s shown us a lot. We’ve seen what everybody else has seen the last two years. He’s been one of the best relievers and setup men in baseball. I think every team would want to have that guy around for as long as possible. That was our motivation."
His previous deal was a one-year contract paying $505,000 in the major leagues this season and $295,500 in the minors.
The sides reached a basic framework on the new deal before the end of spring training, but still had some language to work out. If Doolittle becomes "Super 2" eligible after this season as expected — meaning he is just shy of three years of service time — there are escalators in his new deal based on games finished.
Doolittle certainly hopes his role evolves into becoming the regular closer one day.
The A’s brass are thrilled with Doolittle’s reinvention of himself, though he no longer surprises anybody.
"The durability that he has shown, he takes good care of himself, all of the things you look for in the guys you want to get a long-term deal with, he does," manager Bob Melvin said. "With both sides happy about it, it’s a good deal for us, it’s a good deal for him. To have a guy like that around for a while is good news to everybody in our clubhouse."