Checking in on the closer market
The recent trade of Tyler Clippard to Oakland eliminated one name from the marketplace for setup men and closers, but a number of notable relievers are available at this late stage of the offseason.
The closer market, in particular, hasn’t moved much since David Robertson agreed to his contract with the Chicago White Sox more than one month ago. For now, the playing field looks like this:
— Three free agents remain who saved at least 20 games during the 2014 season: Francisco Rodriguez (44 saves), Rafael Soriano (32), and Casey Janssen (25).
— At least three teams are looking to add a late-inning reliever: the Blue Jays, Brewers, and Indians.
— Philadelphia’s Jonathan Papelbon – who had a better 2014 season than any of the remaining free agents — is available via trade. Papelbon is guaranteed $13 million for the upcoming season, with a $13 million option for 2016 that will vest automatically if he finishes 48 games this year, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. The Phillies sent cash with Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd to facilitate recent trades and may need to do the same with Papelbon.
Neither Soriano nor Janssen remained in the closer’s role for the entirety of the 2014 season, and their WHIP was inferior to that of Giants reliever Sergio Romo, who returned to San Francisco this offseason on a two-year, $15 million contract.
Romo, 31, is also younger than Janssen, 33, or Soriano, 35. All of that suggests the market should yield contracts for Soriano and Janssen worth less than $7.5 million per year, over a maximum of two years.
The deliberate pace of the market for late-inning relievers comes at a time when the importance of having a single "proven closer" is being called into question. The last four World Series champions finished the season with a different closer than they had at the beginning.
Perhaps the best course for general managers is to build deep bullpens with multiple pitchers capable of recording outs from the seventh inning onward, as opposed to leveraging a team’s success on a single closer who could fall victim to injury or ineffectiveness.