Teams possibly in need of a closer include the Astros, Blue Jays, Marlins, Mets, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Reds, Red Sox and Twins. That’s exactly ten team. Here are ten free agents that are available for your closer consideration.
1. Jonathan Papelbon (31) – Paps wants to set the market for closers this season. Although the Red Sox want him back, they may not be willing to pay upwards of $13-plus million per season for a reliever.
2. Ryan Madson (31) – Madson has been one of the best relievers in baseball over the last four seasons. In 2011, he finally got his shot at the full time closer’s gig with Brad Lidge sidelined. If I were a major league GM, I’d prefer Madson to Papelbon, as he’s likely to cost less and produce at nearly the same level, if not better.
3. Francisco Rodriguez (30) – K-Rod has had his issues. He’s outspoken at times, violent at times and he clearly is all about the money. Well, he may not get the $17.5M option that he was hoping for when he signed with the Mets, but he’ll still get “closer” money.
4. Heath Bell (34) – Bell saw a dramatic drop in his strikeout rate last season, about 10 percent from the year before, but he still managed to post a 2.44 ERA with 43 saves for a team that lost 91 games. The Padres want him back – they traded Mike Adams instead of Bell – and Bell says he wants to be back. He might very well accept arbitration or try and work out a two-year deal.
5. Francisco Cordero (37) – Despite a drop in strikeout rate of about three percent, down to 5.43 K/9, Cordero managed to post an excellent 2.45 ERA. Beware potential buyers, that ERA came along with an insanely low .214 BABIP. He relied heavily on the success of his slider and changeup in 2011, which is a risky proposition going forward since he’s never had that much success throwing more offspeed pitches than fastballs.
6. Frank Francisco (32) – Years from now, Frank Francisco will be telling his kids, “I was once traded for the great Mike Napoli.” OK, maybe it won’t go down like that, but Francisco was the piece that went from Texas to Toronto in that three-team deal. Frank has been consistently good, not great, over the past few years, posting xFIPs in the 3.16-3.46 range. However, he has seen his share of time in the trainer’s room, having not thrown over 55.2 innings since 2008.
7. Joe Nathan (37) – Nathan missed all of 2010 recovering from Tommy John surgery. He returned ready to go in spring training of 2011, but his velocity never got back to where it was before. While he still posted a very good 3.1 K/BB ratio, he was much easier to hit, as was evident in the sharp rise in his contact rate and home runs per nine innings (1.41 HR/9 in 2011, a career high as a reliever). He has the smarts and the experience to make an adjustment even if his velocity doesn’t return. Teams should be looking at Nathan as a tremendous buy-low for 2012.
8. Brad Lidge (35) – It was an elbow problem in 2010. It was a shoulder problem in 2011. What’s next for the soon to be 35-year-old? If he heads into 2012 with a clean bill of health, he should be able to help a team due to a decent strikeout rate and very effective slider. It’s that pitch, however, that could lead to his demise health wise. Lidge threw his slider over 60 percent of the time in 2010 and 252 times out of 339 total pitches thrown in an injury shortened 2011 (74 percent). Needless to say, he carries a ton of risk.
9. Matt Capps (28) – Far from consistent over the past four years, Capps has alternated productive seasons. Last season, he saw a major drop in K/9 from 7.3 to 4.7. He only walked 13 batters all year, but that doesn’t mean much when you can’t miss bats or keep the ball out of the middle of the plate. He’s still the proud owner of 124 career saves, which shouldn’t mean anything to any GM at this point, but I fear somehow it will.
10. David Aardsma (29) – What a wreck of a year 2011 was for David Aardsma. It started with hip surgery and, before he could throw a pitch in the big leagues, ended with Tommy John surgery. Aardsma had two straight successful years closing out games for the Mariners in 2009 and 2010, but he has never shown much command or control over the years. He’ll be a rehab project for any team that takes him on and he’ll miss a good chunk of the season doing just that. Command can be one of the last things to return to pitchers after they come back from such a surgery. The problem for Aardsma is that he never had it to begin with.