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.

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