Too many closers, not enough jobs

For some closers, the free-agent game of musical chairs is not

likely to end well.

Too many of ‘em are on the market. Not enough

well-paying, ninth-inning jobs remain.

Two more closers — Pirates righty Matt Capps and Nationals

righty Mike MacDougal — became free agents when their respective

teams declined to offer them salary arbitration.

The availability of the Padres’ Heath Bell in trade

only adds to the squeeze. Bell is more affordable than some of the

closers on the open market; his salary in arbitration is likely to

be in the $4 million range.

Four teams already have found closers. The Braves signed

left-hander Billy Wagner. The Orioles signed left-hander Mike

Gonzalez. The Rays traded for righty Rafael Soriano and the Astros

signed righty Brandon Lyon and traded for righty Matt Lindstrom.

Only three teams are still looking for closers — the Tigers,

Nationals and Pirates.

The Tigers do not figure to spend heavily — they traded

center fielder Curtis Granderson and right-hander Edwin Jackson in

part because of payroll issues.

The Pirates

never spend heavily. The Nationals, like the Pirates, are

rebuilding. Closers are luxury items for such teams; other needs

are more pressing.

The good news is, a number of high-revenue clubs — the

Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Phillies, Mets and Cubs — are looking

for setup help.

The role isn’t as glamorous. The pay isn’t as

good. But if the choice is setting up for the Red Sox or closing

for the Nationals, most right-minded relievers would set up for the

Red Sox.

Oh, it’s musical-chairs time, all right.

Jose Valverde. His problem is not performance;

Valverde, 30, earned 91 saves in 2007 and ’08 and recovered

from a right calf strain to go 17-for-17 in opportunities with a

1.64 ERA after the All-Star Game last season.

No, Valverde’s problem is that he is a Type A free

agent who rejected his team’s offer of salary arbitration.

His decision, in part, was fueled by emotion; Valverde, one friend

said, was upset with the Astros for declining to sign him

long-term.

Thus, he made a personal decision, if not — perhaps — the

best business move.

Valverde, a right-hander coming off an $8 million salary,

would have shot past $10 million in arbitration, though on a

non-guaranteed, one-year deal. Now, any team that signs him faces

an additional cost — the loss of a high draft pick to the Astros.

Teams are interested. They

have to be interested. The question is at what price.

Fernando Rodney. A published report said the

Astros were discussing Rodney, but his asking price was $30 million

for three years. That account was disputed both by Rodney’s

agent, Seth Levinson — “there is absolutely no truth to that

claim” — and by Astros general manager Ed Wade, who said,

“We never really got numbers from Rodney’s guys.”

Rodney, 32, is a Type B free agent, so a team can sign him

without losing a draft pick. Lyon was his setup man with the

Tigers, so it stands to reason that he will exceed Lyon’s $5

million average salary with the Astros. His initial asking price,

one source said, was in the range of $6 million to $8 million over

three years.

A return to the Tigers might make the most sense.

Matt Capps. Not a lot to like going off last

season; Capps, 26, had a 5.80 ERA and averaged nearly two

baserunners per inning. But Capps’ agent, Paul Kinzer, has

been stunned by the amount of interest in his client; the pitcher

is expected to pick five finalists this weekend.

Capps performed well in 2007 and ’08, and a number of

former Pirates executives around baseball — including Dave

Littlefield (Cubs), Roy Smithh (Blue Jays) and Bryan Minniti

(Nationals) — could attest to his makeup and push their respective

teams to sign him.

Mike MacDougal. His strikeout-to-walk ratio is not

good. His September ERA was 9.53. And he’s coming off

arthroscopic surgery. Still, MacDougal throws 95 to 96 mph with

sink and enjoyed something of a breakthrough last season.

The White Sox released MacDougal last April 29. The Nationals

signed him to a minor-league deal and promoted him on May 28. After

that, MacDougal converted 20 of 21 save opportunities and led all

major-league relievers in groundball percentage.

The Nats non-tendered MacDougal for the same reason the

Pirates non-tendered Capps — they feared he would earn more than

$3 million in arbitration. While neither is Valverde, their sudden

entrances into the market only add to the glut.

Too many closers, not enough jobs.