The Chicago Cubs are in the market for a closer, in the sense that they have an open closer position, and are willing to offer a free agent the opportunity to come in and compete for the closer’s job. Because the Cubs aren’t likely to be competitive in 2014, they aren’t in a position to be demanding a “proven closer,” even if pay top dollar for such a thing were advisable in the first place. Instead, the Cubs will troll the depths of the non-closer relief market to try and find some surplus value. (Candidly: even if the Cubs were going to be competitive in 2014, this is pretty much the strategy I’d want them to employ. Paying for top setup guys can make sense at setup prices, but paying big bucks for a “proven closer” feels like a mistake.)
This entire discussion is apropos of three teams picking up “proven closers” in the last 24 hours:
- So that’s why the Tigers just had to dump Doug Fister as quickly as possible: multiple reports have them agreeing to terms on a two-year deal with 39-year-old Joe Nathan. Although Nathan is fantastic, and has been consistently so for a long time (save for his Tommy John sojourn in 2010, and recovery in 2011), is he so head-and-shoulders better than any other option, internal or external, that the Tigers had to make sure to clear salary right now to make a signing happen? I guess we’ll see what the dollars involved are (my bet? something like two years and $15 million), but this feels like the worst kind of “paying for saves” after a season full of closer woes for the Tigers.
- The Dodgers are reportedly close to a one-year deal with Brian Wilson to come back after a successful stretch last year with the team (post-Tommy John). Although he’s not likely a closer in the Dodgers’ pen, he obviously comes with the “proven closer” track record, and I wonder if he’ll be paid accordingly. The Dodgers have an expensive bullpen as it is, but, hey, they’ve got an expensive everything.
- Even smart organizations are getting in on the big dollars for big save totals thing. Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s traded for former Orioles’ closer Jim Johnson, and the $10-ish million price tag that will accompany him in arbitration. The A’s gave up Jemile Weeks for that privilege, but it’s the idea that they’re willing to pay $10 million for one year of Jim Johnson that’s really perplexing to me. Johnson comes with great save totals and a solid ERA, but he’s not a huge strikeout guy, and saw his homer rate tick up quite a bit last year. The deal feels fairly un-Beane-like (of course, when Beane does something un-Beane-like, it usually tends to lead the market), but maybe paying big bucks for “proven closers” is going to become in vogue again.
- Maybe this is going to be one of the areas in which we’ll see those extra TV dollars spent. Instead of pushing smaller market clubs to spend big on big-time free agents, maybe all teams will increase their spending on role players and niche requirements.