It’s Closing Time: Where Will the Top Closers Land?
Sure the great players like Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury get a lot of noise. Even the starting pitchers: Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Bronson Arroyo and Matt Garza garner a lot of attention. However a position, just as formidable as the everyday players and starting pitchers doesn’t get as much attention; the closer’s role.
Which teams are facing the biggest need at the back end of their bullpen who could sign one of these free-agents?
The Detroit Tigers are the first team that comes to mind who need a closer. After losing Veras and Benoit, they’re in desperate need of a top-of-the-line ninth-inning shut-down man. There have been reports of the Tigers planning to sign Wilson, however nothing has been confirmed as of now.
The 32-year-old Wilson signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers midway through last season and became a key piece to their postseason run. He wasn’t a factor until mid-to-late in the season as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Wilson, who is seven years younger than Nathan, could serve as a better multi-year option which is what the Tigers are seeking.
Detroit’s main weakness over the past couple years en route to a World Series appearance and a tough ALCS defeat has been the closer’s spot. Wilson, even a year-removed from elbow surgery, fits as one of the best closers in the business.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are another obvious team as Mariano Rivera is no longer in the equation.
While it’s certainly difficult to replace a legend, someone will be put in that spot. Could they fill it internally with David Robertson? Even if they elect to go that route, they’d need to replace Robertson in the set-up role; maybe Eric O’Flaherty? If they keep Robertson in the set-up role, a guy like Grant Balfour makes perfect sense.
Balfour, 36, brings a fiery-passion to the game that anyone would want from a closer. He missed two-full seasons from Tommy John surgery and we are finally seeing his talent come to fruition as he’s racked up 62 saves over the last two years for the A.L. West champ Oakland Athletics.
While losing some top velocity on his fastball, Balfour knows how to strike batters out, tallying a 10.3 K/9 last season. Only Rodney, Carlos Marmol and Jesse Crain were better than Balfour in this year’s free-agent class.
The Yankees are known for closers. While Balfour is no Rivera, he can bring an added dimension of firepower not only from a ninth-inning standpoint, but a personality standpoint. He fires up the crowd and will clearly make the Yankees formidable in the back end of the bullpen.
Look for Balfour to receive a contract in the neighborhood of two-years, $16-$20 million with a possible vesting option for a third. He wants a multi-year contract and anyone looking for a closer probably wants more than a single campaign.
Tampa Bay Rays
Although Rodney’s 2013 campaign wasn’t as dominant as 2012, he saved 37 games for a club that was ultimately a playoff team. Since he’s a free-agent the Rays could use another arm in the back end of their pen.
The Rays could look at some short-term options who are also dependable and know how to handle American League pitching. That’s why Joe Nathan makes perfect sense here.
Nathan, 39, pitched in the American League for the majority of his career with the Twins and Rangers, has put two consecutive stellar seasons since 2011.
The veteran closer underwent Tommy John surgery which curtailed his 2010 season. He made 33 appearances with the Twins in ’11, but wasn’t the same, producing an underwhelming 4.84 ERA.
He revitalized his career with the Rangers and showed he can still pitch with the best of them, posting a 1.39 ERA with 43 saves last year. He’s earned 80 saves over the past two seasons.
In a tough American League East, anyone the Rays bring in would have to be familiar with their lineups and also the culture of the designated hitter spot. Guys like Mujica, Joel Hanrahan and Kevin Gregg are concerning in that regard.
The drawback would be that only seven times has a closer aged 39 or older saved more than 30 games in a season. Dennis Eckersley has done it and most recently Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera accomplished it.
Nathan could garner a guaranteed multi-year contract, somewhere in the range of $10-$13 million annually over two seasons. They could also give him one guaranteed year with a club or vesting option for a second.
The Mariners are another team looking for a closer. Their A.L. West rival Los Angeles Angels would have been on this list, but they recently signed former Indians reliever Joe Smith to a three-year, $15.75 million deal.
Seattle could also look into a Nathan, but he might elect to go somewhere that could compete right away.
The list is getting thinner, but they could look to go younger with a player who absolutely doesn’t need to win a World Series right away. The closer could help grow the organization with their young pitching staff. A guy like Chris Perez makes sense here.
The 28-year-old former Indians reliever compiled a high 4.33 ERA in 54 games last season. However, he’s saved at least 23 games in four consecutive seasons. He’s a guy the Mariners cook bring in the back end of their bullpen to finish off games.
A guy in his mid-to-late 30’s wouldn’t have the patience to see a young pitching staff grow and a team come together. A 28-year-old could aid in that regard and sign a longer-term contract.
It’s not very often relievers, even closers receive a guaranteed contract of three-years, or longer. However, the Mariners should consider that with Perez. A three-year, $24-$27 million contract seems like a bit much, but it should be considered for Seattle to bring him in for the future.
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