Signing Free Agent Closers Will Not Get You to the Promised Land

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Here's a bold prediction that's bound to have you nodding your head in agreement: the Mets will not win the World Series in 2009. Nor will they win in 2010, 2011, or 2012 as long as they continue to employ Francisco Rodriguez in the classic closer role. Why? Not because Frankie struggles with control sometimes and walks one hitter every two innings and not because hitters have been steadily increasing their batting average against him each season. No, it is just bad luck for teams to select their closer via the free agency route.

In fact, no just one team has won the World Series with a free agent closer since the 1978 New York Yankees, who famously brought borderline hall-of-famer Goose Gossage over from the Pirates in November 1977. Of course, they made the free agency splash despite already having a closer in Sparky Lyle who helped the team notch a World Championship just a month earlier. Since 1978, every almost every team that has won the World Series has done it with either a closer developed from within or acquired via trade. Think about just the last ten years:

  • 2008 Phillies - Brad Lidge (acquired by trade)
  • 2007 Red Sox - Jonathan Papelbon (developed from within)
  • 2006 Cardinals - Adam Wainwright (acquired by trade)
  • 2005 White Sox - Bobby Jenks (developed from within)
  • 2004 Red Sox - Papelbon Keith Foulke (oops)
  • 2003 Marlins - Ugueth Urbina (acquired by trade)
  • 2002 Angels - Frankie Rodriguez (developed from within)
  • 2001 Diamondbacks - Byung Hung Kim (developed from within)
  • 2000 Yankees - Mariano Rivera (developed from within)
  • 1999 Yankees - Rivera

That list stretches back twenty more years and includes such illustrious names as Jesse Orosco, Dennis Eckersley, and Dan Quisenberry. Granted, this evidence does not prove that developing a closer from within or acquiring one via trade is a guarantee that your team will be successful, nor does it mean that the Mets are absolutely going to fall flat on their face with K-Rod. It's just a thirty-year trend that says that perhaps there are better ways to build your relief corps than throwing a dump truck full of cash at some guy who pitched a couple stress-free innings a week and set a meaningless record.

Of course, the Mets were in a bad situation last year with Billy Wagner's elbow going bust and the trio of Scott Schoeneweis, Aaron Heilman, and Pedro Feliciano blowing more games than they saved. And any reliever like the Mariners' J.J. Putz was out of reach via trade because the Mets cupboard of prospects was bare. It's almost as if they had no choice except to bring in the biggest fish on the market.

Perhaps the Mets will prove me wrong and put an end to this trend. After all, they've got a talented core of David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Johan Santana. Find a decent upgrade at second base and the corner outfield positions and they'll easily challenge the Phils for the N.L. East. But really, it's a shame they couldn't be a little more creative with the closer role.

Thanks to commenter piggy bank robber for reminding me that it was free agent acquisition Keith Foulke, and not Papelbon, who closed out games for the Red Sox in '04. I stand corrected with my theory in the crapper.

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Aaron Heilman (developed from within)

There's your problem.

Byung Hung Kim isn't what I would point to as a PRO to developing within

Does this mean that one out of every ten WS-winning closers will attempt to machete people to death?

Yes, rarebit. So watch out for Duane Ward. He's armed to the teeth.

I'm developed from within and have basically nothing to show for it.

Um, I don't mean to crap on anyone's parade, but I'm pretty sure Keith Foulke was the Red Sox closer in 2004, and I'm further pretty sure that he was acquired through free agency (and wikipedia backs me up, for what its worth). So... 9 out of the last ten is still pretty good!

Where were you last night when I was doing my 'research'?

My precious antique parade-- look whatcha done to it! You beat me to the observation, Piggy, but I am going to make my comments anyway. The choice is between:

Thanks for nothing, Foulke!
Wow, Paps is a whole year and a half older than I thought he was.

This whole post is shot.

This whole blog is shot.

Thanks for bringing back painful 1993 memories, Rob.

The blog post may be shot, but I'm even happier now that the number of WS-winning FA closers = the number of WS-winning closers who are insanely murderous jackals.

I think maybe you should shut down and change formats. I would try "Scandals and Animals".

Duane Ward is a gentleman and a scholar.

Robb Nen = murderous jackal

/nods head in agreement anyway.

One Troy Percival was the Angels closer in 2002. Frankie was merely a peon setup man who barely didn't really help the team at all except for being the best God-pointer this side of Zambrano. It was all Percival... all the time.

So yeah about that JJ Putz guy, apparently the Mets cant possibly trade for him, especially with guys like Aaron Heilman as developed within. Whomp whomp wahhhhhh

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