Psst, buddy...need a closer? You're in luck. Ever since Kerry Wood and Trevor Hoffman were voted off their respective islands, the market for relief pitchers has absolutely exploded. Of all the teams expecting to contend in 2009, I count only seven teams that are publicly seeking out a closer (Tigers, Angels, Braves, Mets, Brewers, Cardinals and Diamondbacks). With free agent contracts not likely to break any records this off-season and the possibility of teams promoting from within, it's a buyer's market out there.
Here's a partial list of current free agents who recorded at least five saves for their team last year (and yes, I realize that the save statistic is one of extreme artifice and little importance in the grand scheme of things, but allow me a momentary pass out of Sabermetric Town for a second):
- Francisco Rodriguez, rhp, 62
- Kerry Wood, rhp, 34
- Brian Fuentes, lhp, 30
- Trevor Hoffman, rhp, 30
- Brandon Lyon, rhp, 26
- Jason Isringhausen, rhp, 12
- Eric Gagne, rhp, 10
- Luis Ayala, rhp, 9
That's eight free agent closers who, despite having varying levels of success ranging from K-Rod's record-setting season to Eric Gagne's injuries and demotion, are looking to find work in 2009. And that list doesn't even include all the guys who succeeded as setup relievers, like fan-favorite lefty Joe Beimel, punching bag Kyle Farnsworth, frequently injured Tom Gordon, Everyday Eddie Guardado, or aged righty Mike Timlin. All in all, the market for relievers is a buyer's market.
Perhaps the only guy who will make the big bucks is Frankie Rodriguez. Allegedly, the Mets are all in on K-Rod. Still, his former team, for whom he set the single season saves record, won't even bother to offer him a contract. Besides, outside of Mariano Rivera, who can you really count on these days?
Are baseball owners and general managers finally turning the corner on the concept of closing games, towards a more open-ended bullpen-by-committee strategy? Will a poor free agent reliever season mark the beginning of smarter bullpen strategies by teams, with managers opting to use their best relievers in high-leverage situations in the seventh inning? Will folks take cues from Joe Maddon who mixed and matched his Troy Percival-less but deep bullpen with great results in the September stretch and the postseason?
Probably not, but if so, the current agent-client-owner relationship is in deep trouble. Without top-of-the-line closers collecting 30, 40 or 50 saves a year, the marketplace will have to adapt to newfangled sabermetric statistics like our old friend WXRL. And more WXRL = more jobs for baseball nerds!